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Work Mummy shroud and mask

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Religious and funerary beliefs

Mummy shroud and panel portrait

© 2000 Musée du Louvre / Georges Poncet

Egyptian Antiquities
Religious and funerary beliefs

Marie-France Aubert

This mummy covering comprises a mask with a headboard encasing the head and bust, and five fragments of shroud enveloping the lower part of the body and the feet. The finely-made covering is remarkably beautiful, and its decoration and iconography are unique. Its role was to provide magical protection and ensure eternal life for the image of the deceased, identified with Ra. It is contemporary with the Fayum portraits, and reflects the strength of the Pharaonic funerary tradition.

The mummy mask

The mummy mask is a bust in the likeness of the deceased. The thick hair and curly beard are black, accentuating the golden sheen of the skin. The eyebrows frown slightly above extraordinarily expressive glass-inlaid eyes. The face is framed by the flaps of a white, yellow, and blue striped Nemes headdress. The neck muscles and Adam's apple protrude. The fingernails are clearly drawn; the left hand lies flat on the chest, the right holds the Ankh, symbol of eternal life.
The decoration of the headboard is framed on three sides by an Egyptian border; a dark painted band with white stars, representing the night sky, also runs along the top. The deceased is portrayed as Sokar, standing in the center. He wears a pink shroud with a netting and a pleated white cloak, and the Tjeni crown. Columns of hieroglyphs, beginning with the formula "Words spoken by..", identify the gods surrounding the deceased: Isis on the right, followed by Anubis and Horus, and Nephthys on the left, accompanied by Shu and Atum. These figures, which stand out in slight relief, are shown offering pieces of white fabric, which symbolize rebirth.

The divine procession

The scenes that constitute the painted decoration on the shroud (which imitates that of a coffin) should be read from right to left.
The first illustrates the weighing of the heart: the deceased and his heart (painted black) lie on the pans of a pair of scales, with Horus and Anubis holding the chains. The Devourer of the Dead is perched on a podium in the form of a naos shrine.
In the following scene, Thoth and Horus purify the deceased, portrayed as a naked youth. Atum and Horus then take him to Osiris; a fragmentary scene shows Anubis offering water and incense before an altar.
The first painting on the left side is also incomplete: Horus offers water and incense to the mummy of the deceased (now lost), mourned by Isis and Nephthys. A procession of gods comes next: Thoth, Shu, Anubis, Horus, and Atum head toward the temple tomb (the deceased's new residence), represented by two pylons framing a tall wooden door with sliding bolts. The soul bird waits below this door to accompany the decased into the light of day. Finally, the soul bird, perched on the arm of a shaduf at a fountain, helps the deceased to draw water.

Scenes to facilitate the journey to the afterlife

The central part of the shroud is decorated vertically, with the coils of the snake Mehen (protector of Ra in the afterlife) on either side. At the top, the god Behedet is portrayed as a hawk, holding the shen ring (symbol of eternal protection) in each claw. On either side of his head are columns of hieroglyphs proclaiming "Behedet, the great god, the lord of the sky." The decoration is completed by curved registers, decorated alternately with papyrus leaves on a blue background and pink water lilies on a white background.
The lower part of the shroud is very important: the representation of the feet enabled the deceased to stand in the afterlife. Above, the deceased's soul bird, protected by Behedet, holds out its hands to collect the water poured by the sky goddess Nut. Below, the deceased is portrayed standing as Osiris in a naos shrine, surmounted by a uraeus frieze with an ankh in the center. Finally, the two columns of hieroglyphs on either side of the god's head read: "Words to be spoken by the great god Osiris".


- AUBERT M.-F., « Portrait d ‘un mort divinisé en Osiris Sokaris », in La revue du Louvre, 5, 2000, p. 13 à 16 .

- PARLASCA K., SEEMANN H., Augenblicke, Mumienporträts un ägyptische Grabkunst aus römischer Zeit, catalogue de l’exposition, Francfort, Schirn Kunsthalle, 30 janvier-11 avril 1999, n° 206.

Technical description

  • Mummy shroud and mask

    2nd century AD

    Egypt, Tuna el-Gebel (indicated by the style)

  • Mask: stuccoed, painted, and gilded cartonnage
    Shroud: tempera on linen

    Mask: H. 50 cm; L. 32 cm; W. 61.5 cm
    5 shroud fragments: L. 45.5 cm; W. 137.2 cm
    L. 33 cm; W. 105.4 cm
    L. 45.5 cm; W. 134.7 cm
    L. 50 cm; W. 60 cm
    L. 40 cm; W. 60 cm

  • Mask: gift of the Friends of the Louvre, 2000
    Shroud: gift of Lucien Viola, 2000

    E 32634 a, E 32634 b

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Lower ground floor
    Roman Egypt (room closed for renovation)
    Room 183

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