Inspiration of Faith: Egyptian Ceremonial Masks
Inspired by their faith, the ancient Egyptians created ornate ceremonial masks that have become famous symbols of their legendary culture, examples of which you can buy from Artemission.
Faith in Egypt
Evidence suggest that the roots of Egypt’s faith-system were laid long before Upper and Lower Egypt were united into one nation, around 6,000 B.C. They believed a pantheon of gods e.g. Amun, Anubis, Isis and Osiris, governed vital aspects of life, such as the annual flooding of the Nile River which was pivotal to the continued existence of Ancient Egypt.
Religious tradition even governed how the Egyptians buried their dead. People were mummified when they died to transform their bodies into a dwelling-place for their spirit, so it could travel to the afterlife. It was considered vital for the soul to be able to recognise the face of the deceased, so the Egyptians developed ‘death masks,’ to identify the body to the spirit.
Markers of identity
These coverings generally depicted the deceased in their youth, only with larger eyes, a faint smile and adorned in the latest fashions of the day. The most famous example is the death mask of King Tutankhamun, which was unearthed when the monarch’s tomb was discovered in 1922 A.D.
It was also common for priests to wear animal-head masks to represent the gods e.g. the distinctive jackal-head of Anubis, the god who watched over the dead, during ceremonies. Here we go back to Anubis; Ancient Egyptian priests would traditionally don a mask shaped to resemble his jackal’s head during funeral ceremonies, especially the ‘opening of the mouth,’ ritual to animate the mummy.
Indicator of status
In early Ancient Egypt, face coverings were made from two pieces of wood connected by pegs. During the ‘Old Kingdom’ (2686 B.C.-2181 B.C.) and ‘Middle Kingdom’ (2055 B.C.-1650 B.C.) they developed a new material for mask making; ‘cartonnage.’ Made from plaster-soaked papyrus/linen which was shaped on a wooden mould, it became the most common mask-making material in Ancient Egypt.
The Pharaohs were far too high and might to use cartonnage. They and eventually all nobles in the historic empire crafted their face coverings from gold, the same material as the skin of the gods. Masks such as Tutankhamun’s were shaped from gold and adorned in precious gems such as the lapis lazuli, malachite and red jasper to denote their status in the afterlife.
As Ancient Egypt fell to invaders, their masks were buried in the sands of North Africa. Many were re-discovered during the 19th Century A.D. and 20th Century A.D. Today you can buy authentic Egyptian ceremonial mask from the Egyptian Antiquities Section of Artemission.com.
Artemission.com (Atticart Ltd.) is the leading antiquities gallery online. Starting the very first internet site dealing with authentic antiquities, Artemission specialise in ancient art from Egypt, the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia, as well as Islamic Art and Ancient Coins.