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Collection Highlights

Mummy mask

Mummy mask
© BA Antiquities Museum/C. Gerigk

Registration Number(s)
BAAM Serial Bibliotheca Alexandrina Antiquities Museum Number 0638

Inv.Inventory
 (Al Ashmunin storerooms) 331

where to find


showcase 17

Mummy mask

Category:
Masks, funerary masks, mummy masks
Date:
Graeco-Roman Period, Roman Period (31 BCE-395 CE)
Provenance:
Upper Egypt, Minya
Material(s):
Man made material, plaster
Height:
14 cm
Hall:
Greco-Roman Antiquities, showcase 17


Description

Roman funerary mask made of gypsum portraying the features of the deceased. Roman Masks were put in Roman houses in order to remember the deceased. The Romans in Egypt copied the Egyptian idea of putting these masks on the mummy of the deceased after mummification.
It should be noted that this mask is of a person that is no more than 40 years old. It is believed that these masks were made during the lifetime of the persons they represented.

Plaster Masks

Some gypsum masks have been found since the eighteenth century, but more were excavated during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Alexandria and environs, as well as in the Delta, and Middle and Lower Egypt.

The few studies undertaken regarding the masks have associated these masks with the Egyptian funerary custom, particularly during the Ptolemaic period.

The masks underwent a drastic change in style during the Roman era. They no longer followed the normative edict of ancient Egypt, but became a true representation of their owners portraying their features in detail. They were more akin to personal photographs following the broad trends of Roman art.

The Isis cult found great popularity among the Romans with its special spiritual character, where death was seen as a transition from an earthly life into an eternal life in which the deceased was believed to enjoy immortality. Eternity for the Romans was not the idea of joining the kingdom of Osiris, but to have the virtues of the deceased extolled by successive generations. Therefore, masks were painted in the likeness of the person and kept in the atrium of ancestral homes.

Masks were usually made of a variety of materials dependent on their availability in the different regions, such as gypsum, cloth or wood. The Alexandria collection is all made of gypsum plaster, as many other masks in other parts of Egypt are.

Masks were poured into moulds and were then pressed with fingers from the inside. 
Details were hand-made and added, such as the ears and the eyes. There were several ways of making the eyes. They were either painted or inlaid. Painting the eyes dates back to the first century and continued until the third century A.D. The mask was then covered with gypsum and hair was added to it and the mask was finally glued to the plaster head. Hair styles changed in accordance to the fashion of the time.


The information given here is subject to modification/update as a result of ongoing research.

Bibliography
  • عزيزة سعيد، الأقنعة الجصية. القاهرة: المتحف المصري، 1982.
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