The funerary rites and rituals of Egypt are among the most elaborate
and celebrated burial traditions in the ancient world. The foremost
concern was the preservation of the body, in order that it might be
reborn in the afterlife. While the painstaking mummification process
achieved this goal of counteracting the effects of physical
decomposition, the ancient Egyptian were not satisfied with a wrapped
body alone. Gorgeously decorated mummy cases and sarcophagi
developed over the course of thousands of years so that the body
could be properly presented to the audience of the gods awaiting the
deceased’s arrival in the next world. These cases were created from a
variety of materials, including stone, wood, and cartonnage, that were
utilized depending upon the wealth and status of the deceased.
This painted wooden funerary mask is a splendid example of Egyptian
art. Wooden sculptures from Ancient Egypt are exceedingly rare, since
fine wood was scarce and expensive. Considering the relative expense
of wood, it is likely that this work was once inserted into a large
mummy case likely formed from cartonnage or carved from stone.
Dowel pins still in place on the reverse support this theory. However,
the focus here is the face, expertly rendered with idealized features.
The stylized almond-shaped eyes, so characteristic of Egyptian art,
with tapering cosmetic lines and black brows, draw our attention with
their captive gaze. They appear to stare back at us from beyond the
grave. Who might this person have been? A pharaoh? A priest? A scribe?
Surely he was someone of tremendous importance and great stature in
order to be honored with such a gorgeous rendition of his being.