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HOME : Egyptian Antiquities : Late Dynastic Period : Egyptian Wooden Mask
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Egyptian Wooden Mask - AM.0158
Origin: Egypt
Circa: 600 BC to 300 BC
Dimensions: 10.4" (26.4cm) high x 9.75" (24.8cm) wide
Collection: Egyptian
Medium: Wood

Additional Information: Art Logic—Guest and Gray (London) 2007
Location: Great Britain
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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 condition. 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 Egypt. 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 modes. 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 truly ‘die’. 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 gold leaf. - (AM.0158)


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