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Mummy Portrait of a Bearded Man

Egyptian - Mummy Portrait of a Bearded Man - Walters 326

Mummy Portrait of a Bearded Man

Mummy portraits also called Fayum mummy portraits, like this one, is a type of naturalistic painted portrait on wooden boards attached to Egyptian mummies from the Coptic period. These Mummy portraits belong to the tradition of panel painting, which was a highly regarded art form in the Classical world. Fayum pictures are the only significant body of art from that tradition to have survived. While painted cartonnage mummy cases date back to pharaonic times, the Faiyum mummy portraits were an innovation dating to the Coptic period.

The “Coptic period” which is a designation for Late Roman Egypt (3rd−4th centuries) and Byzantine Egypt (4th−7th centuries). This era was defined by the religious shifts in Egyptian culture to Coptic Christianity from the ancient Egyptian religion and which dominated until the Muslim conquest of Egypt in the 7th century. Regarding the artistic tradition, the images clearly derive more from Greco-Roman artistic traditions than Egyptian ones.

Mummy portraits have been found across Egypt, but are most common in the Faiyum Basin, and “Faiyum Portraits” is today generally regarded as a stylistic, rather than just a geographic, description. The portraits covered the faces of bodies that were mummified for burial.   The panel portraits were made in either tempera paint or in encaustic, as in this example. Encaustic painting is a technique in which the pigment is dissolved in wax before it is applied to the surface.

Reflections on a Mummy Portrait

Egyptian mummy portrait, nearly 1,000 years-old What do you think more Roman or Hellenistic, in its artistic and cultural heritage?

Mummy Portrait of a Bearded Man

  • Title:                    Mummy Portrait of a Bearded Man
  • Date:                    ca. 170-180 CE
  • Culture:               Roman Egypt (Roman Imperial)
  • Find site:             Egypt, Faiyum (er-Rubayat)
  • Material:             Encaustic (wax and pigments) on wood
  • Dimensions:       H: 15 15/16 x W: 7 7/8 in. (40.5 x 20 cm)
  • Museum:            Walters Art Museum

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“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”Napoleon Bonaparte

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Photo Credit: 1) Walters Art Museum [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons