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Work Mummy mask of a man with headrest

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Roman Egypt (30 BC - AD 392)

Mummy mask of a man with headrest

© 2005 Musée du Louvre / Christian Larrieu

Egyptian Antiquities
Roman Egypt (30 BC - AD 392)

Author(s):
Aubert Marie-France

This mummy mask shows a man with gray hair, beard and moustache, dressed in white, with a panel of his fringed mantle falling to the right. He has a ring on the little finger of his left hand. On his head is a wreath, probably of myrtle leaves. The head was modeled in stucco over a wooden core attached to the panel. On the headrest, which held the mummy's head, the dead man is painted as Osiris, with Isis, Nephthys and the four sons of Horus in attendance.

A mummy mask with very well-preserved colors

The face is small and oval-shaped, with pale-pink flesh tones. The eyes are sculpted and painted; the eyelashes are painted in on both the upper and lower lids. The bluish-grey hair, beard, and moustache are painted flat, with no attempt to indicate volume. Touches of yellow indicate the beard and the locks framing the forehead. The head is crowned with a wreath of myrtle leaves, flanking a central cabochon. The leaves are painted yellow to symbolize gold. The man wears a white tunic with a trapezoidal neckline. The folds of the fabric are modeled. A fringed mantle covers the man's shoulders, and a broad, thick fold covers his chest. His barely raised head rests on a cushion covered in a pink fabric with a geometric pattern, flawlessly rendered by the painter.

The decoration of the headrest

The figures on the headrest are silhouetted against a yellow ground. In the background the dead man, with brown curls framing his face, is depicted as Osiris. Flanking this figure are Isis and Nephthys, wearing pink robes that reveal their breasts. The four sons of Horus are portrayed to the left and right of the headrest.
This figure is distinguished by the gray tone of his hair, beard, and moustache, the only known example of this among known stucco masks. Yet the face is young and the skin very light. Gray hair is also rare in portraits painted on wood, where it is invariably associated with an aged, wrinkled face.
 

Technical detail

The curved mummy mask is made from three wooden planks of different sizes, held together with dowels. The headrest is composed of eight small boards, two of which are missing. The holes used to attach the mask to the mummy are placed at the corners of the headrest and the mask. The underside of the mask and the inside of the headrest are painted white. The head was moulded around a wooden core, which was used to attach it to the panel. On the panel, stucco was laid in layers of varying thickness to lend relief to some of the details, such as the neckline and the folds of the tunic. The hands and wrists were roughly carved in wood, then stuccoed and painted. This craftsmanship of this piece is particularly fine, indicating a "top of the range" production.

Bibliography

M.-F. Aubert, R. Cortopassi, catalogue de l'exposition Portraits de l'Egypte romaine, Paris, musée du Louvre, 5 octobre 1998-4 janvier 1999, Paris, 1998, n 43 ;

S. Colinart, M. Garcia-Darowska, A. Portal, "Masques funéraires égyptiens de l'époque romaine", Le plâtre : l'art et la matière, Paris, 2001, note 22 p. 61, notes 23, 29, 33 p. 62, notes 50, 51 p. 64, note 61 p. 65 ;

G. Grimm, Die Römischen Mumienmasken aus Ägypten, Wiesbaden, 1974, note 185 p. 121, p. 189 ;

S. Walker, M. Bierbrier, catalogue de l'exposition Ancient Faces. Mummy portraits from Roman Egypt, Londres, British Museum, 1997, n 165 ;
 

Technical description

  • Mummy mask of a man with headrest

    3rd century AD

    Tuna el-Gebel, excavations by the Institut français d'archéologie orientale

  • Head: painted stucco on a wooden core; panel and headrest: stuccoed and painted fig wood

    H. 51 cm; L. 29 cm; W. 70 cm

  • Division of finds, sent by the Institut français d'archéologie orientale in 1905

    E 12170

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Lower ground floor
    Roman Egypt (room closed for renovation)
    Room A

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