In the early Middle Kingdom,
mummy masks might be made from plastered linen; by the mid-Twelfth Dynasty workshops were producing
longer masks covering the upper body, and there were eventually mummy-cases (in
wood) enveloping the whole body. The first mummy masks appear at the end of the Old Kingdom (about
2686-2181 BC) . They are usually made in stuccoed linen (cartonnage).
In the First Intermediate Period they are very common in elite burials.
In the Middle Kingdom (about 2025-1700 BC) some examples are inscribed.
In the New Kingdom (about 1550-1069 BC ), Third Intermediate Period
and Late Period mummy masks appear in some elite burials, but became
widespread again only in the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods.
In the Third Intermediate Period the innermost coffin of elite burials
was replaced by a mummy-case made in cartonnage (linen and stucco). These mummy-cases,
often also simply called 'cartonnage' were brightly painted. They are no longer
in use by the Late Period.
In the Ptolemaic Period, from the reign of
to the very beginning of the Roman Period, perhaps no later than the reign of Augustus,
cartonnage elements and masks were produced from old papyrus scrolls; during this
period, many masks and elements were also being produced with linen in place of
In the Roman Period mummy masks
(see image to the right) and decorated pieces placed on the
mummies were being produced from thicker fibrous material supporting a thicker layer
of plaster. The image could be painted using Encaustic (melted wax) or Tempera
(pigment mixed with egg yoke) on wood and some were gilded. These portraits were
probably painted by itinerant artists living in the Faiyum. The panel,
made up of cypress, lime or sycamore wood, was prepared with a ground of
gypsum plaster or plaster of whiting and glue. The portrait was roughly
sketched on this in black or red paint. The paint, made from natural
mineral or vegetable pigments, wax then applied. As a medium for the
paint, either water and an adhesive material were used or, more often,
the pigment was ground and mixed with wax.
Most portraits were originally square prior to being cut
down in size to adapt to the face of the mummy. Flinders Petrie found the
trimmed side and corner pieces beneath one portrait, tucked into the
mummy wrappings, which led him to the conclusion that the portrait
of the individual was sent to the embalmer after death to have the
frame removed, and be trimmed down to fit the mummy's face. Sometimes
a gold wreath painted across the hair, and a more elaborate form of
jewellery would then be added to provide the deceased with greater
richness of jewellery in the afterlife.