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. Some of
the earliest examples were relatively unadorned,
featuring the general shape of the body
highlighted by idealized facial details. Later, they
evolved into ornate memorials that sought to
recreate the specific appearance of the
memorialized individual, both in terms of
physical features as well as clothing and jewelry.
Polychrome paint infused the works with color
and the finest examples were gilt.
This mask once formed the upper part of the lid
of an anthropoid sarcophagus which is now in
the form of a bust. The deceased is represented
with an oval face framed by a tripartite wig which
exposes the ears, the lobes of which are nicked.
The almond-shaped eyes exhibit a plastic upper
lid which trails off to the sides of the face and
plastically raised paint stripes for eye brows. The
bridge of the nose is rather wide and ends in
prominent wings. The mouth is horizontally
aligned with thin lips and drilled corners.
Typologically our sarcophagus belongs to a
series sculpted in limestone and carved in wood,
which all share a set of general characteristics.
Several of these in wood were never painted in
antiquity, and comparisons with our example
suggest to that it likewise not painted. The
ancient Egyptians appreciated the quality of the
wood for both its aesthetic and symbolic values.
The most famous examples of such unpainted,
wooden sarcophagi are of late fourth century BC
date and were discovered in the burial chamber
of Petosiris, priest of Thoth, at the site of Tuna
el-Gebel in Middle Egypt.
For these sarcophagi in general, see M.-L. Buhl,
The Late Egyptian Anthropoid Stone Sarcophagi
(Copenhagen 1959); and for the example
inscribed for Petosiris in Cairo, The Egyptian
Museum JE46592: Mohamed Saleh and Hourig
Sourouzian, Official Catalogue: The Egyptian
Museum Cairo (Mainz 1987), number 260a.