Egyptian Antiquities :
Late Dynastic Period : Egyptian Wooden Mask
Egyptian Wooden Mask - AM.0158
10.4" (26.4cm) high
x 9.75" (24.8cm) wide
Location: Great Britain
| Photo Gallery
Mounted, wooden mask in high-relief, flat-backed
with original dowels for attachment to sarcophagus;
slender, triangular-shaped face with narrow
forehead, high linear brows, almond eyes with
elongated cosmetic line, prominent triangular nose
with flaring nostrils and small, full-lipped mouth
bearing slight smile; ears perpendicular to face; all
surmounted by nemes wig-cover. Excellent
This piece heralds from the later part of the Late
Dynastic Period (1085-332 BCE) and was produced
within a time frame of 300 years, which
incorporated the tail end the Kushite Period (712-
664 BCE), Saite Period (664-525 BCE), the Late
(525-332 BCE) and finally, early years of Ptolemaic
Period (332-30 BCE). This was a period of great
unrest in Egypt marked by internal strife,
interference from foreign powers and the rise of
eastern power that threatened the very existence of
Yet, despite the changeable political landscape, art
endured scarce changed during the centuries; style
and proportions only occasionally bowing to socio-
politico-economic shifts. For example, the Ethiopian
kings of the Kushite Period – into which this mask
cuffs - brought about a renaissance, as it were, of
archaic tenets and also introduced an element of
realism to statuary. Two innovations that were
contrarily encouraged and discarded during the
succeeding Late Period.
Before, we examine the mask in the context of these
shifts, it is important to first examine the Egyptian
concept of ‘art’. Art in a modern sense of the word
simply did not exist and if the ancient Egyptian had
had any concept of art it would have been defined
by his consciousness of his religious experience.
This mask, for example, while rendered according to
a sanctified creative mode, served a purely practical
purpose and represents an integral part of a
complex belief system regarding death and the
afterlife in ancient Egypt. Egyptian culture was
profoundly influenced by magic and belief in the
afterlife shaped and defined the ancient mind-set.
In order to enter the afterlife, the deceased must
present with body entirely intact before the gods.
Mummification of the corpse, encasement within the
coffin and subsequent entombment were essential
steps in preserving the body of the deceased.
This mask would have formed part of an anthropoid
wooden coffin – traditionally there would have been
two or three – which first appeared in 12th dynasty
and continued right up to this late period.
As mentioned, while overarching similarities
perpetrate throughout the course of Egyptian
history, the political twists and turns of the Late
Dynastic Period and periods of extreme turbulence
did give rise to shifts in art that mirrored the
turbulent political vista.
It was not the goal of the Egyptian artisan to express
any individualistic notion of reality in his work,
rather to betray virtuous characteristics so as the
subject appears heroic and beneficent. While at
certain points in its history, the rational and
disciplined approach to art was relaxed, on the
whole art statuary conformed to a sanctified creative
This arresting, larger-than-life representation,
which originally would have been painted, conforms
nicely to Saite period statuary and is likely to herald
from 26th dynasty given the attempt at some
naturalism; faithful search for the bony structure
beneath the flesh attempted; the incipient smile on
the amiable features is a reflection of the ‘archaic
smile’ apparent in portraits of contemporary
pharaohs; the exotic charm of the ethnic features;
the overall dominant impression is one of humanity.
The faultless quality matches preceding portraiture,
showing that the renaissance of standards achieved
in 25th dynasty was well maintained. The ear with
all its convolutions has been carefully carved and
this is not a feature, which is always carefully
rendered, even on important statues.
We also get an insight into ancient craftsmanship.
The original dowels, which would have fixed the
mask to the coffin, are still in place.
This provides an insight into the mind of a people
far removed from that of any modern culture.
Allows the deceased to stand before us forever.
Created precisely so that the ancients would never
Has survived in exceptional condition, protected
within the funerary context from the deliberating
factors of light and air.
Beyond royal tombs, there are others, mostly of
courtiers, nobility or provincial officials.
Wood was employed extensively for statuary and
chiefly worked by the adze and chisel. With the adze
it was possible to cut and shape wood and to plane
it smooth. Detail would have been added with the
chisel, and a finish imparted with an abrasive.
The native timbers of Egypt were the acacia and
sycamore-fig but were too fibrous, knotty and
contorted to permit fine joinery. The highest
standards of execution are found in objects made
from imported timbers, such as coniferous woods of
the Lebanon and the ebony or tropical Africa.
Would have been covered with a thin layer of gesso,
a mixture of glue and whiting capable of taking a
very smooth finish like a polish. Afterwards the
surface was painted in dense colour or covered with