Mask of Tutankhamun

This gold death mask of Tutankhamun is an example of the highest artistic and technical achievements of the ancient Egyptians in the New Kingdom. Covering the head of the wrapped mummy in its coffin and activated by a magical spell, no.151b from the Book of the Dead, the mask ensured more protection for the king’s body. The exact portrayal of the king’s facial features achieved here made it possible for his soul to recognize him and return to his mummified body. Thus ensuring his resurrection.

It was discovered by Howard Carter in 1925. The head is covered by the royal headdress and the forehead bears the emblems of kingship and protection: the vulture and uraeus, or royal cobra. The gold sheets used in this wonderful mask are joined together by heating and hammering. The eyes are of obsidian and quartz and the eyebrows and eyelids are inlaid with lapis lazuli. The broad inlaid collar of semi precious stones and colored glass ends in falcon heads.

Gold Mummy Mask of King Tutankhamun
Gold Mummy Mask of King Tutankhamun

It is one of those strange quirks of history that Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb exactly 100 years after Jean-François Champollion cracked ancient Egypt’s hieroglyphs. Champollion’s breakthrough in 1822 unlocked the civilization’s rich written archive, while Carter’s discovery in 1922 offered an unadulterated view of pharaonic opulence.

“Tutankhamun’s gold mask ranks today as one of the most famous artworks in the world. For more than [ninety]-five years it has been subjected to the unremitting gaze of countless millions–viewed at first hand on exhibition in the [Museum of Egyptian Antiquities], Cairo and elsewhere, and featured in endless books, magazines, and television documentaries. It is not only the quintessential image from Tutankhamun’s tomb, it is perhaps the best-known object from ancient Egypt itself.”

Tutankhamun’s Mask Reconsidered (2015), by Nicholas Reeves

Detail of the funerary mask of King Tutankhamun
Detail of the funerary mask of King Tutankhamun
Tutankhamun's mask was displayed without its beard in the Cairo Museum for over a decade.
Tutankhamun’s mask was displayed without its beard in the Cairo Museum for over a decade.

A photograph taken in 1937 shows the mask at top with the beard lying below. The lump on the bottom left is part of a collar of gold and faience beads that had been attached around the neck of the mask.

Queen Elizabeth II looks at the mask of King Tutankhamun
Queen Elizabeth II looks at the mask of King Tutankhamun

Queen Elizabeth II looks at the mask of King Tutankhamun. The Queen officially opened the exhibition at the British Museum on March 29, 1972

detail of the beard of king Tutankhamun’s gold mummy mask
Detail of the beard of king Tutankhamun’s gold mummy mask. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. AFP/Photo Mohamed El-Shahed

Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62), Valley of the Kings, West Thebes. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 60672