The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in Art & History

Tutankhamun’s Mask

TUT-Ausstellung FFM 2012 47 (7117819557)

Tutankhamun’s mask is the funerary mask of Tutankhamun the 18th-dynasty Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh who reigned 1332–1323 BC. It was discovered by Howard Carter in 1925 and is now housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. This mask is one of the most well known works of art in the world.

Tutankhamun’s burial chamber was found in the Valley of the Kings in 1922 and opened three years later. It would be another two years before the excavation team, led by the English archaeologist Howard Carter, was able to open the heavy sarcophagus containing Tutankhamun’s mummy. On 28 October 1925, they opened the innermost of three coffins to reveal the gold mask, seen by people for the first time in approximately 3,250 years. Carter wrote in his diary:

“The penultimate scene was disclosed – a very neatly wrapped mummy of the young king, with golden mask of sad but tranquil expression, symbolizing Osiris … the mask bears that god’s attributes, but the likeness is that of Tut.Ankh.Amen – placid and beautiful, with the same features as we find upon his statues and coffins.”

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The mask is composed from two layers of high-karat gold, varying in thickness. X-rays revealed that the mask contains two alloys of gold: a lighter 18.4 karat shade for the face and neck, and 22.5 karat gold for the rest of the mask.

The face represents the pharaoh’s standard image, and the same image was found by excavators elsewhere in the tomb, in particular in the guardian statues. He wears a nemes headcloth, topped by the royal insignia of a cobra and vulture, symbolising Tutankhamun’s rule of both Upper and Lower Egypt.

The gold mask is featured with inlays of coloured glass and gemstones, including lapis lazuli for the eye surrounds and eyebrows. Quartz for the eyes and obsidian for the pupils. The inlays of the broad collar include carnelian, feldspar, turquoise, amazonite, faience and other stones. The narrow gold beard is inlaid with blue lapis lazuli to give it a plaited effect.

Tutankhamun's mask, Burton photograph P0744, 1922

The death mask in situ, 1925

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Essential Facts:

  • Title:                         Tutankhamun’s mask
  • Year:                         c.. 1323 BC
  • Material:                  Gold, coloured glass and gemstones
  • Discovered:            1925
  • Dimensions             54 × 39.3 × 49 cm
  • Writing:                   Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs
  • Museum:                 Egyptian Museum, Cairo

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“For the benefit of the flowers, we water the thorns, too.” Egyptian Proverbs

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Photo Credits: 1)  By Carsten Frenzl from Obernburg, Derutschland (TUT-Ausstellung_FFM_2012_47) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 2)  By Kérész Norbert [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons   3)        Harry Burton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons