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This striking painting of a young woman

is called a mummy portrait.
Mummy portraits are a group of objects
from Egypt which were affixed to
mummified bodies as part of the burial
They were painted on linen shrouds and
wooden boards.
About 1000 mummy portraits exist today,
but fewer than 10% of them are still
attached to their mummies.
None of the mummies have ever been found
in a definite primary context.
Instead, they come from shallow pits and
reused tombs.
They're found mostly in northern or lower
But in great abundance in the Fayum
region, which is how they got their
colloquial name, the Fayum portraits.
The Fayum region is just southwest of
It's a miniature oasis centered on a body
of salt water called lake Malaris in
Major fine sets include the ancient
cities of Hawara, Er-Rubayat, and
Philadelphia in the Fayum and
Antanopolous in Middle Egypt.
Egypt was ruled by the Ptolemies, a
dynasty of Greek origin from 332 to 30
The famous Cleopatra the 7th was a
Ptolemy and it was after her death in 30
BCE that Egypt because a Roman province.
The period from this year until 395 CE,
when the Roman Empire split into two
halves, it's called the Roman period.
All of the Fayum portraits date to this
period, roughly between the mid-first and
later-third centuries CE.
The subjects of the portraits are thought
to have been part of a local elite class.
Possibly descended in part from Greek
soldiers and civilians settled in the
Fayum by the first Ptolemies.
But the population during the Ptolemaic
rule was mixed.
About one third Helene, which meant not
Greek, but foreigner, and two thirds
And so the people living in the Fayum
during the Roman period were probably of
mixed heritage.
This was not the only burial practice
undertaken among this population.
But it seems to reflect the preference of
some people for more realistic images
than had been traditional under the
Egyptian pharaohs.
The portrait custom can be best
understood as a sum of Greek, Roman and
Egyptian parts.
The Greek part is the painting style, the
color palette of reds and yellows.
The use of three quarter poses which
imitate Greek busts.
And the attempt at 3 dimensionality, are
all elements of a style championed by the
Greek artist, Apelles in the fourth
century BCE.
The Roman components of the portrait
tradition are mostly funerary and
The display of masks of the dead in the
homes of elites and in temples is known
from the Roman world, as are meals with
the dead, especially on the anniversary
of the death.
The mummies are thought to have been
entombed in subterranean catacombs with
banqueting rooms above them, so that they
could join their relatives for meals on
special occasions.
Roman wall paintings from Pompeii and
imperial portraiture also echo the style
of the mummy portrait.
Lastly, the Egyptian share of this
practice is the mummification.
Preserving the body for the afterlife was
considered strange by some Roman Authors,
who did not live in Egypt.
Embalming head had been compared with the
salting of fish.
But the Graeco Egyptian population, which
prepared their dead in this way, had been
in Egypt for centuries.
And had come to practice some parts of
the Egyptian religion.
However, Roman period mummification was
far from perfect.
In most cases the internal organs were
left inside the body, and in others we
find the body had decayed for several
years before being embalmed.
Let's talk for a moment about technique.
The paintings were made on linen shroud
which were wrapped around the body or,
more commonly, on thin wooden panels.
The panels needed to be thin enough to
bend across the face of the mummy so that
they could be inserted into the
Elaborate wrapping patterns were common.
Sometimes they would be decorated with
gold and plaster appliques.
For example, with figures of ancient
Egyptian gods.
The paintings were made by one of two
The first is encaustic, a wax-based
medium mixed with either resin or egg,
used either hot or cold.
Here the wax was stretched and melted
onto the canvas by a series of hard
tools, pins, and brushes.
The second technique is tempera, where
the pigment has been mixed with a
water-soluble binding agent and applied
with brushes.
Elements likes laurel wreaths and
jewelry, as with the necklace you see
here, were often gilded.
The paintings represent people of all
ages and both sexes, as well as people of
certain professions, identifiable by
their dress, such as priests and
In addition to dress, we can use hair
Particularly those of women.
To date these paintings.
Because the fashions in Egypt evidently
followed Roman imperial fashions, fairly
There's evidence that some paintings are
made from models.
And a portrait with instructions for
delivery on the back suggest that some
paintings traveled long distance to meet
the body.
Very few of the portraits bear any text
but the portrait of the boy Eutyches is a
notable exception.
It is a painting of a young boy which
bears an inscription in ink, not paint.
This means that the text was probably
written by someone other than the artist.
The inscription across the top of his
tunic reads in Greek, which was the
common language of the time, Eutyches
freedman of Kasanios.
This implies that the painting was used
as a document testifying to Eutyches
being freed by his master.
This is extraordinary, in and of itself,
and it also shows that even former slaves
were allowed to have portraits, if
someone could pay for them.
But what follows in the inscription is
also exemplary, another name, and the
phrase, I signed.
This might refer to the person who
witnessed Eutyches being freed.
But it could also be the only attestation
of an artist's signature on any of the
final portraits.
Eutyches' portrait naturally does to the
debate about when a portrait was made
during the life of the subject.
Some paintings do seem to show people who
might have been near death.
But others are attached to bodies which
expired far later in life then their
portraits would suggest.
The only fair conclusion at this time is
that each case was different.
Some people might have commissioned their
portrait in their prime and hung them in
their homes until they died.
Others might have commissioned them when
they knew death was near.
And still others, for whatever reason,
might not have been painted from life at