in Features | 17 SEP 16 | Features
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Issue 3

Telling Tales - Ancient Thebes

From Ancient Egypt to Baroque Bologna to avant-garde Moscow, the works at Frieze Masters open up a world of stories

in Features | 17 SEP 16

A peaceful face for eternity

Ariadne Galleries, C3

Late Period Egyptian mummy mask, c.664-525 bc, polychrome wood, 46 cm high  

This mummy mask was brought from Egypt to France around 1850 by the French admiral Joseph Maurice Exelmans, who had joined the navy in 1831, and from 1837 led campaigns in Algeria, the South Atlantic, the Pacific and the Mediterranean. In 1851 he was appointed aide- de-camp to the Minister of the Navy, frigate captain and officier d’ordonnance to Napoleon III. The mask was housed with other objets d’art at the family residence, Château du Broutay in the Loire Valley. It would have originally formed part of an anthropoid (human-shaped) coffin, of the type that were created in Egypt during the Middle Kingdom (c.2000 bc), eclipsing the earlier box-like varieties. This style of coffin is based on the appearance of the mummy inside, instilling the structure with a particularly lifelike presence. It was believed to serve as a substitute body in which the spirit of the deceased could eternally reside, in the event that the mummy was destroyed – an occurrence that would jeopardize the safe transition and prosperous existence of the deceased in the afterlife. This example, from the Late Period, has a youthful look and peaceful expression – with almond-shaped eyes, extended eyelines and eyebrows and a wig, striped in alternating bands of yellow and blue-green to evoke precious gold and lapis lazuli, idealized for eternity. Hieroglyphics in the mask’s interior ask for a peaceful transition to a glorious afterlife: ‘May you not be confined, may you not groan ...’.