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Mask of a Man from a Coffin

Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art

On View: Egyptian Orientation Gallery, 3rd Floor
Changing Faces of the Ancient Nile Valley

Despite the common belief that Egyptian artists were reluctant to change, close examination of works produced over many generations shows that they could be quite innovative in artistic style— the distinctive features of aesthetic expression characterizing a period.


The chief royal sculptor, responsible for official images of the king, usually developed at least one standard “court style.” But styles often varied from one dynasty to the next, and two or more styles often evolved during a single dynasty or even a single reign.

Several forces could result in a new style. A pharaoh’s death could motivate the chief royal sculptor to devise a fresh “standard” for depicting his successor. The replacement of one chief sculptor by another might also inspire innovation. Or perhaps young carvers reacted to the teachings of the chief sculptor, introducing subtle modifications that, over time, became an entirely new style.

The carved heads in this case and in the one on the right, spanning more than three thousand years, demonstrate clear changes in stylistic expression.
MEDIUM Plaster, pigment
  • Possible Place Made: Middle Egypt
  • DATES late 2nd century C.E.
    PERIOD Roman Period
    DIMENSIONS 9 7/16 x 7 1/16 x 5 1/2 in. (24 x 18 x 14 cm)  (show scale)
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Egyptian Orientation Gallery, 3rd Floor
    ACCESSION NUMBER 05.392
    CREDIT LINE Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    CAPTION Mask of a Man from a Coffin, late 2nd century C.E. Plaster, pigment, 9 7/16 x 7 1/16 x 5 1/2 in. (24 x 18 x 14 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 05.392. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, CUR.05.392_erg456.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, CUR.05.392_erg456.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 9/5/2007
    "CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Life size painted plaster mask of a man, from a coffin or cartonnage. Inlaid eyes, curled hair, small beard and moustache. Technique: Eyes inlaid, opaque white glass with dark brown opaque glass pupils, eyebrows painted black. Small moustache painted on upper lip. Beard is modelled and runs down cheek in slender strip toward the chin, stops and is resumed on chin. Hair at forehead modelled in long way locks; on top of head modelled in short curls. Flesh painted pink. Ears flare slightly. Workmanship of excellent quality. Condition: Perfect except for slight crack running from the right ear to forehead. A cross bar has been inserted in back between the ears, presumably in the Museum, for installation. Dating: Treatment of hair and beard together with the use of opaque glass inlays for eyes points to about the time of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius (138-161 A.D.) as the probably date. Impossible to determine angle at which head was intended to rest as back is completely missing but probably it was elevated slightly.
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