Silver gilt funerary mask
A silver funerary mask representing a human face, worked in the repoussé technique with strong, naturalistically portrayed features and a demure expression. The heavy-lidded eyes are depicted shut and set below pronounced, arched eyebrows that are engraved with finely hatched lines. The face has high cheekbones and a straight, broad nose set above a full-lipped mouth. Two prominent ears jut out at either side of the head. The earlobes are pierced. The mask is covered in a green patina, leaving relatively large areas showing the original silver finish of the metal.
Placing a metal mask on the face of the deceased was a unique, probable originally tribal, burial custom during the Liao dynasty in China. The Liao dynasty was founded by a semi-nomadic tribe of hunters and pastoral people named Qidan (Khitan). The material used for a funerary mask was determined by the hierarchy of the wearer; copper was used for those of lower ranking, whilst higher ranking officials were allowed to use a more precious metal such as silver and silver-gilt. Gold was reserved for members of the imperial family. A unique gold funerary mask with silver netting still attached, belonging to the Princess of Chen, is now in the Research Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology of Inner Mongolia. A comparable gilt-copper mask is in the Meiyintang Collection. A further comparable silver-gilt mask is in the Muwen Tang Collection.
Collection of Prof. Michael Besser, London
- She, Hsuehman ed. Gilded SplendorTreasures of China’s Liao Empire (907-1125), Asia Society New York, 2006, p. 100
- She, Hsuehman ed., op. cit., no. 6, pp. 1089
- Krahl, R. Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, Vol. One, Azimuth Editions, London, 1994, fig. 31, p. 107
- Kwan, S. Chinese Silver, The Muwen Tang Collection Series, Vol. 2, Hong Kong, no. 64, pp. 1445