Wednesday, August 24, 2016

"An Egyptian Mummy Mask," Letter from London, September 2016 | Maine Antique Digest

An Egyptian mummy mask (E) sold for $150,860 by Bonhams as part of their July 7 antiquities sale was once owned by Lady Jane Franklin.

E: Egyptian mummy mask, $150,860 at Bonhams.

Though a remarkable woman in her own right, one whose own travels led her to adventure and exploration in Tasmania and Egypt, Lady Franklin is probably destined to be forever remembered for the many Arctic search expeditions she sponsored and funded when her husband’s ships, having sailed in 1845 to seek the elusive Northwest Passage, disappeared without trace into the Arctic wastes.

It was only two years ago that the wreck of one of Sir John Franklin’s ships, the Erebus, was finally located.

The mask was probably acquired in 1834, when Lady Franklin was travelling down the Nile to Upper Egypt and Nubia in company with Johann Lieder, a German cleric. Employed for almost 40 years by the British Church Missionary Society in Cairo, Lieder was fluent in Arabic and a keen Egyptologist and collector. At the time of their visit, the main excavation sites were Saqqara, Abydos, and Thebes, so it is likely that this mask with its separately made and inlaid eyes had its origins in one of those places.

A number of pages have been removed from the diary that Jane Franklin kept at the time of her Egyptian travels, but it seems that she and Lieder became very close on the journey and on one occasion, after receiving a bouquet of flowers from which Lieder had carefully removed all the thorns, she wrote “would that he could even with bloody finger pull all the thorns in my path throughout life.”

On their return to Cairo, Jane lingered at Lieder’s house for some time, ignoring her husband’s protestations that she should return home, but back she eventually came and in 1836 sailed with her husband to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), where he was to take up a post as Lieutenant-Governor.

Lady Franklin’s Australian years saw her resume her travels and get involved in social projects such as the founding of schools, but following their return to England and her husband’s disappearance in the Arctic she devoted much of the rest of her life trying, unsuccessfully, to discover what had been the expedition’s fate.