Ancient Egyptian Masks.

Ancient Egyptian masks tied in with One of the most important aspects of ancient Egyptian belief in the afterlife- preservation of the deceased. The involved embalming methods kept the body from decaying and in some cases funerary masks were used to keep the image of the face intact. But there may have been other uses for masks.

Gold masks

Without a doubt, it is King Tut's youthful gleaming gold death mask that is the most well known. It is an iconic image of ancient Egypt that is instantly recognizable. Was it the only one?

Certainly not. There has been several discoveries of funerary masks beaten from gold and silver which became more prevalent in the New Kingdom period. This practice -as you would expect- was reserved for royalty. It did become available to other higher class citizens later.

Masks of this type were not just made from silver and gold, but from other metals too. They would be painted in blues and reds for decorative effect. Similarities in the facial features of ancient Egyptian masks over different periods of time seem to show that the masks were more about demonstrating the importance of the individual than to capture picture perfect portraiture.

Cheaper materials

The most basic trials at preserving the individuals appearance with the use of a mask, came in the 4th Dynasty. As part of the mummification process attempts were made to stiffen the linen wrappings on the face. Plaster was moulded over the linen bandages in some instances and also directly onto the face.

Masks made from stiffened linen, or in some cases papyrus, are known as cartonnage masks. Some early examples of these masks were shaped with a wooden mould, rather than an actual head.

The features of these early masks were characterized by large, over emphasized eyes and half smiles. They included a bib that extended over the chest.

How were masks used?

As mentioned above the main use for ancient Egyptian masks was in a funerary sense. It is believed that the preservation of the individuals face was important for a successful journey to the afterlife. In case of physical damage, the mask would protect the person's image and create immortality for them. This was an important factor in gaining acceptance into their afterworld existence.

Evidence, although sketchy and minimal, has hinted that masks were used in other ways in ancient Egypt.

One particular discovery, was a mask of Anubis the Jackal God. Made of ceramic, this mask was made to fit over the head of the wearer- possibly an embalmer priest. Grooves at the bottom appear indicate that they would fit over the wearers shoulders for support. Eye holes for vision are in the neck of the mask with the large Jackal face sitting high above. Quite an imposing effect.

The vision of the wearer of this mask would have been limited and tomb drawings and paintings show the Jackal-headed individual with helpers to guide him.

Although there is no solid evidence that masks were used in traditional ceremonies, paintings and drawings suggest that they were. An ancient history professor Arlene Wolinski, has demonstrated that some drawings show that the bottom of the mask with supports (double lappets) which would suggest that they were portrayals of humans wearing masks and not the god itself.

Return from Ancient Egyptian Masks to Ancient Egyptian Religion Page.

Return from Ancient Egyptian Masks to Home Page.