An Egyptian Beaded Mask
This remarkable object is a beaded funerary mask from the Middle Kingdom of ancient Egypt. The entire piece is made up of multi-coloured beads with a generally green/brown background, with features (eyes, brows, nose and teeth) delineated in black, red and white. It is of geometric construction, with a wide forehead flaring to the cheekbones, pinching to a narrow chin. The face is outlines with dark beads; this cuts across the chin, below which there is an elongated beard denoted by dark horizontal stripes. These items were incorporated into the mummy wrappings and laid over the face of the deceased. Whereas the majority of facial masks on mummies represented either the deceased or a generic face, this particular piece represents one of the most important deities to be involved in the complex Egyptian cosmology: Osiris, god of the underworld. He was believed to have green skin, hence the green beads used as the background colour. This follows a traditional belief that deities could be invoked to assure an easy transition to the afterlife, hence the inclusion of idols and amulets inside and around the mummy wrappings. Osiris was the son of Nut (sky goddess) and Geb (earth god), and first appeared in the 5th dynasty. He was originally associated with fertility (including Nile flooding) and subsequently with death and the trial (weighing of the heart) which accompanied the decease of every Egyptian. Despite his mortal associations, he became perceived to be a benevolent force for good, even being dubbed the ‘Lord of Love’ as his influence spread from pharaohs to every member of Egyptian society during the New Kingdom. Sculptures depicting him are usually fairly standardised as he was so important to so many generations; this mode of representation is unusual, and while sometimes appearing in the Ptolemaic period, there are few known examples from this period. This is a rare and remarkable piece of ancient art.