Egyptian Painted Plaster Funerary Mask of a Man

SKU X.0178

2nd Century AD – 3rd Century AD


9.625″ (24.4cm) high


Glass, Plaster



Gallery Location

S Korea


This gorgeous plaster funerary mask reveals that the traditional Egyptian arts continued to flourish even under Roman rule. In fact, the Egyptian style was reinvigorated with a healthy dose of Roman classicism that elegantly merges with the stylized traditions of Egypt. The owner of this portrait is depicted as a mature male aristocrat with neatly trimmed hair, beard, and moustache. The artists took great pains to indicate the nuanced differences between the elegantly rendered snail-shaped curls of hair and that of the moustache and beard. The moustache consists of finely incised striations whereas the beard, in order to suggest its fullness, is ornamented with a series of seemingly irregular notches. This facial hair imbues the figure with a sense of gravitas, or seriousness of purpose, which is reinforced by his heavily-lidded eyes, framed by eye brows in raised relief, painted black, and the slightly open mouth conveyed by a subtle parting of the lips. One is, consequently, confronted by a portrait of an elder statesman.

This seriousness of purpose is rooted in the portrait traditions of the earlier Augustan Period of the Roman Empire, but the beard and moustache betray their second century AD date. The individual depicted was certainly an elite member of Egyptian society and was probably regarded by his contemporaries as an elder statesmen. He is so depicted for eternity since this mask covered the head of his mummy. The portrait finds its closest correspondences in painted panels of the period, and its excellent state of preservation is remarkable.


Compare, a head in Copenhagen, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek AEIN 1386: Klaus Parlasca and Hellmut Seemann [editors], Augenblicke. Mujmienporträts und ägyptische Grabkunst aus römischer Zeit (Munich 1999), for the Augustan antecedents of our portrait, and page 237, catalogue number 144, for a portrait on painted on a panel which shares the same features encountered in our head.

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