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100 Highlights
of the MFAH
Take a tour through some of the most significant objects in the MFAH collections. On these pages, you can browse 100 highlights from collections throughout the institution. Then visit the Museum in person to discover your own favorites.
Burial Mask
5th century or earlier

7 1/2 x 5 1/4 x 3/4 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Alfred C. Glassell, Jr.

Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, & the Americas

Arts of the South Pacific

This rare burial mask is one of the oldest objects in the museum's Glassell Collection of Indonesian Gold. Jagged slits form facial features that contrast in texture with the smoothness of the "skin." Extremely fragile and thin, the mask derives from ancient Chinese burial traditions that predated Hindu and Buddhist cremations.

Between the 9th and 10th centuries, hundreds of years after this mask was made, a golden age took place in Java, one of the largest islands of Indonesia and a center of the Asian trade route. Prosperity brought about a flourishing of the arts, and many objects were fashioned to adorn the statues of Buddhist and Hindu temples. Though these objects were more elaborate, this Javanese mask possesses a presence no less powerful. It re-creates the fine hairs of the eyelashes and eyebrows with delicate incisions. The strong, clean lines convey a timeless image, perhaps of an ancient ancestor. Few masks of this type have survived the ravages of time.