Egypt, late Romano-Egyptian period, ca. 2nd to 3rd century CE. A fabulous mold-formed stucco funerary mask depicting an elegant woman. Her powdery white face presents with puffy cheeks, a dimpled chin, full lips flanked with indented corners, a slender nose with flared nostrils, and rounded ears. The almond-shaped eyes are outlined in black with elongated outer canthi beneath thin eyebrows, and petite curls of black hair are visible on either side of the smooth forehead as well as peeking out from the center. Her fashionable coiffure is arranged into eight incised columns and covered in applied black pigment, and traces of the original mask backing feature thin black stripes with areas of turquoise- and pink-hued pigment on one side. A refined example of Egyptian funerary tradition from the Romano-Egyptian era! Size: 6.625" W x 7.25" H (16.8 cm x 18.4 cm); 9.625" H (24.4 cm) on included custom stand.
Heads like this one reflect the profound change that the Greco-Roman world brought to Egypt. The naturalistic depiction of a person's face as either a mask or head replaced the stylized art of dynastic Egypt; hieroglyphs and other symbols painted on elaborate sarcophagi fell out of favor, and a head like this would have been a memorial alongside a simple wooden coffin. These heads were reserved for the elite, who were buried in small chapels, usually mummified and with other members of their family and/or town. Funerary heads like this represented a dramatic change, departing from centuries of tradition. For the first time in the Roman period, Egyptian mummies were buried with lifelike representations rather than the mummiform masks seen in previous periods.
For a stylistically similar example with additional hair and bangs, please see The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession number 00.2.16.
For another stylistically similar example with an intricate necklace and added red pigmentation, please see The Dallas Museum of Art, object number 1995.82.
Another stylistically similar example, of a slightly smaller male face with inlaid glass eyes, hammered for $15,000 at Christie's, New York "Antiquities" auction (sale 3798, December 9, 2015, lot 152).
Provenance: private Los Angeles, California, USA collection; ex-private collection, acquired on the London Art Market in the 1980s; ex-Shlomo Moussaieff collection, London, England, acquired in 1969
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Repaired from multiple pieces, with some areas of restoration visible along hollow interior, and resurfacing and overpainting along break lines and new material. Losses to areas of cheeks, neckline, coiffure, and mask peripheries as shown. Fading to original pigmentation, with minor nicks to nose, forehead, coiffure, and peripheries, and light encrustations. Nice earthen deposits and great traces of original pigment throughout. Modern adhesive strips on verso for stabilization.