I chose to examine the piece simply titled ‘Mummy Portrait of Young Woman’ because it caught my eye for being

unique to most of the Egyptian art I have seen—where there is usually a heavily-made-up face with more cartoon-like features, this piece displays a face that is natural and life-like. In this work, we can actually get an idea of how the muse truly looked. ‘Mummy Portrait of Young Woman’ is a type of piece commonly known as a fayum portrait--a realistic drawing of the deceased painted onto a wood panel and placed onto the coffin; sometimes painted directly onto the coffin itself. This fayum was made during the Roman era in the Egyptian empire. It is approximately eight inches wide and twelve inches tall, made of an undefined type of wood, and cut in a rectangular shape with the top rounded into an arc to follow the natural shape of the head of the person whose likeness is being depicted. Paint is the medium used for the portrait, which was once likely brightly colored, but is now a mix of mostly neutral tones. The drawing on this piece is of an Egyptian woman from her head to the upper part of her chest. She has large almond-shaped dark brown, almost black, eyes and dark hair. The woman in this painting has a youthful and healthy appearance--her skin is smooth with no wrinkles or signs of age, she has full lips, her hair, though it is pulled back and braided at the scalp, looks full and thick, and her eyebrows are full and thick as well. Her face is oval with prominent cheekbones and a narrow jaw, and she is wearing makeup but definitely not in the way we see in most Egyptian art; it appears she is only wearing lipstick and a heavy black eyeliner. The piece has faded a bit with age, but the woman does look to be wearing small bead-like earrings and a v-neck shirt or tunic that looks like it was once a dark colored fabric with a gold collar. She appears to be posing for the portrait with the full

intention of looking as natural as possible-she is expressionless, neither smiling nor grimacing or frowning. I’d like to compare and contrast this Egyptian burial artifact with an Early Christian burial artifact--the sarcophagus of the Roman Church of Santa Maria Antiqua. Both works are pieces from containers housing deceased individuals, both were made about the same time period, and both the ‘Mummy Portrait of Young Woman’ and the sarcophagus have a person or persons as the central decorative theme. However, the similarities end there. Instead, these two burial artifacts are much more different than they are alike. The subject of the Egyptian piece is presumably the mummy woman found inside the coffin on which the painting was found. The artists wanted to capture her likeness and youthful essence, and for all eternity have these buried with her. We do not know who was laid to rest inside the sarcophagus of the church of Santa Maria Antiqua just by examining it. There are no clues, portraits, and the like to show who is inside. Instead, on the outside of the coffin are sculptures possibly representing various Christian idols and myths such as: Christ himself in various poses and scenes (as the Good Shepherd and as the Christian soul) ; a baptismal scene; and Jonah and the whale. Clearly, the individual whom influenced the making of “Mummy Portrait of Young Woman’ is regarded higher than his or her beliefs whereas in the sarcophagus the person’s religious beliefs overshadowed their individuality in regards to their afterlife. Also, in ‘Mummy Portrait of Young Woman’ not only is the individual inside portrayed in the piece, the portrait was painted exclusively for her. She sat, she posed, for this portrait to be painted on her coffin after she died. In the sarcophagus, the marble

carvings were already almost completed--before the person who was to be buried inside was determined. Instead, the artists carved out ambiguous figures and scenes and left little detail so that once a person was fitted for the piece the artists could then finish individualizing it to fit the person to be laid inside. Thus, ‘Mummy Portrait of Young Woman’ was ‘made to order’ so to speak, while the sarcophagus was made, essentially, assembly line style. Finally, the most obvious difference between the two pieces is the medium, material, and size of the works. While the Egyptian piece is rather small, so as to fit to closely follow the natural lines of the body, the Roman sarcophagus is rather large and likely very heavy. The portrait of the Egyptian woman is various colors of paint on wood, which probably could have been painted in a rather short period of time; while the sarcophagus is painstakingly carved out of marble--which would have taken many, many hours of labor-- and colorless. If at one time it was painted, the color has long faded away. Of the two pieces, in regards to sheer detail and craftsmanship I would peg the sarcophagus in the church of Santa Maria Antiqua as being of greater significance. However, while slight and simple, the ‘Mummy Portrait of Young Woman’ enables those who gaze upon it to look into the eyes of a part of history all too often covered in makeup and gold and glitz--the natural beauty of a true Egyptian woman.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful