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HOME : Egyptian Antiquities : Archive : Roman Period Egyptian Mummy Portrait Depicting a Young Man
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Roman Period Egyptian Mummy Portrait Depicting a Young Man - X.0216
Origin: Egypt
Circa: 2 nd Century AD
Dimensions: 14.5" (36.8cm) high
Collection: Egyptian
Style: Roman Period
Medium: Paint on Wood

Additional Information: SOLD

Location: Great Britain
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This striking portrait of a young man was painted in the encaustic technique on wood. Although the majority of the painted surface has deteriorated over the centuries, the young man’s eyes are remarkably intact, staring back at us through the ages. The dark brown eyes, his thick eyebrows, and dark curly hair are all facial features characteristic of the people depicted on such portraits. Like an old photograph that has faded over the years, we recognize something familiar in this work, and in the eyes of this man, something we recognize in ourselves too.

It was common practice among elite members of Roman society in Egypt to commemorate their loved ones with a commissioned portrait. Painted in either the encaustic technique, by which the pigment was suspended in molten wax, or in tempera, on very thin panels of wood, these images represented the deceased wearing the latest fashions in clothing with their hair coiffed in the most popular, contemporary styles current in Rome.

These portraits, such as ours, were proudly displayed in the home during the sitter’s life time, but were removed and entrusted to the funerary priests upon death so that the portrait might be incorporated into the bandages of the deceased’s mummy. Our example is unusual in that it is still attached to the linen bandages, the adhering to which, coupled with the extraordinary paper thinness of the wooden panel itself, contributed over the centuries to its present state. Nevertheless, one still senses the presence of the sitter because of the emphasis given to the large eyes which continue to cast their glance deep into the distance. This concentration on the eyes as windows of the soul so characterizes many of these so-called Faiyum portraits, and so impressed the early Christians that such eyes became a fixed feature of Byzantine icons, which are to be regarded as the artistic heirs of such Faiyum portraits. On the basis of parallels for the style, we can assign our evocative portrait to the second century AD.


E. Doxiadis, The Mysterious Fayyum Portraits. Faces from Ancient Egypt (New York 1995), particularly pages 45-46, for a succinct discussion about the influence of these Faiyum portraits on Byzantine art, and page 195, number 6, for an example in Munich which is dated to the period of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and appears to share stylistic characteristics with our portrait.

- (X.0216)


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