The funerary rites and rituals of Egypt are among the most elaborate and celebrated burial traditions in the ancient world. The foremost concern was the preservation of the body, in order that it might be reborn in the afterlife. As mummification techniques became more and more advanced over time, so did the coffins become more and more elaborate. During the Middle Kingdom, mummy masks were made from plastered linen and became increasingly larger until they covered the entire upper body. Eventually, wooden mummy cases covering the entire body became the standard. These cases were created from a variety of materials, including stone, wood, and cartonnage, that were utilized depending upon the wealth and status of the deceased. Some of the earliest examples were relatively unadorned, featuring the general shape of the body highlighted by idealized facial details. Later, they evolved into ornate memorials that sought to recreate the specific appearance of the memorialized individual, both in terms of physical features as well as clothing and jewelry. Polychrome paint infused the works with color and the finest examples were gilt.
This gorgeous wooden mummy case lid is a masterpiece of Ancient Egyptian art. The elegant form and intricate painted decorations are hallmarks of the Egyptian style. More than a mere artifact, this magnificent work is a symbol for the glories of Ancient Egypt, from the grandeur of the Pyramids to their vast pantheon of deities. Physically, this work demonstrates the capabilities of the carver as well as the technical precision of the painter. Spiritually, this sculpture stands for the complex religious beliefs that formed the foundation of the civilization. The form of the lid echoes the form of the mummified body that would have once rested inside. Aside from the face and the suggestion of feet, the body is highly abstract, reflecting the form of the wrapped mummy. Clearly, the most impressive aspect of this mummy case lid is the brilliant polychrome paint that decorates its surface. A virtual textbook on the funerary beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians, the iconography of the painting is filled with deities and symbols relating to the great beyond. The lid has been roughly divided into three zones: an upper zone depicting the face, wig, false beard and painted depictions of falcon heads crowned with solar discs representing the god Horus on each shoulder, a middle register containing an elegantly painted band of beaded necklaces with a depiction of the goddess Isis crowned with a solar disc kneeling with winged arms outstretched wide, and a lower zone dedicated to hieroglyphic text containing depictions of gods of the underworld. - (DV.033)