Constructed from cartonnage, a material made from layers of papyrus and plaster, this delicately painted object would have served an important role in the funerary rites of ancient Egypt. During Egypt’s Roman Period (30BCE – 641CE ), mummification and inhumation were the preferred body treatment and disposal practices. Masks, vividly painted shrouds and portraits adorned corpses to venerate the deceased’s life in the living world, and in the next. In addition to its aesthetic appeal, this mask may have held a practical function. Masks were placed over the face of the mummified body during the period of display prior to burial, and in some cases the mask was kept in the family home to be brought out at subsequent funerals. Masks were also buried with the deceased to protect the face from desecration and guard the soul in the afterlife.
This funerary mask was part of a major donation by Marion and David Adams gifted to the University in 2009. The first woman to be appointed Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne (1988–1993) Professor Marion Adams was a distinguished scholar of German literature as well as an avid collector of antiquities from Greece and Rome, Egypt and the Near East, Africa, India, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. A subsequent bequest by David Adams supports exhibitions, object-based learning, research, and engagement in the University’s Classics and Archaeology program.
Funerary mask of a woman 30 BCE – 600 CE, installation view. Photograph: Peter King
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