The most distinctive aspect of ancient Egyptian funerary practice was the ritual preservation of the body through mummification. For most of their history, the Egyptians also made likenesses of the deceased individual as a cover for the face, so that if the mummy should deteriorate or become damaged, the spirit—after its nightly wanderings—would recognize it and return. In the Middle Kingdom, shaped masks of plaster and linen were gessoed and painted with relatively realistic portraits. These were called in ancient Egyptian swht, meaning “eggshell.” The most famous mummy mask of all is the elaborate, gold-and-inlay mask of Tutankhamun.
(Ben Heller, Inc. New York);
purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1970.