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Fayum Mummy Portrait of a Bearded Man

Egyptian - Mummy Portrait of a Bearded Man - Walters Art Museum

Fayum Mummy Portrait of a Bearded Man

These types of Mummy portraits are also called Fayum mummy portraits. It 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” 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 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, and not 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 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.

About 900 mummy portraits are known at present. Due to the hot, dry Egyptian climate, the paintings are often very well preserved, often retaining their brilliant colours seemingly unfaded by time. Surviving examples show that they were mounted into the bands of cloth that were used to wrap the bodies. Almost all have now been detached from the mummies. They usually depict a single person, showing the head, or head and upper chest viewed frontally.

In terms of artistic tradition, the images derive more from Greco-Roman artistic traditions than Egyptian ones.

Coptic Period

The “Coptic period” is an informal 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 ancient Egyptian religion until the Muslim conquest of Egypt in the 7th century. The Coptic period began about the 3rd century and lasted until around the significant decline of Christianity in Egypt with the arrival of Islam in the 7th century.

Although the term “Coptic period” is generally avoided by the academics due to its imprecise interpretation, because “Late Antiquity” or “Byzantine Egypt” are used to define chronological periods. Coptic Christianity still has many followers in present-day Egypt.

Roman Egypt

The Roman province of Egypt was established in 30 BC after the defeat of Mark Antony and Pharaoh Cleopatra. The Romans annexed the Ptolemaic Kingdom to the Roman Empire. The province came to serve as a major producer of grain for the empire and had a highly developed urban economy. Roman Egypt was by far the wealthiest of the Eastern Roman provinces and by far the most prosperous Roman area outside Italia. Alexandria, its capital, possessed the largest port and was the second largest city of the Roman Empire.

Fayum Mummy Portraits

Fayum mummy portraits are also are known as Faiyum, is the modern term for a type of naturalistic painted portrait on wooden boards attached to Upper-class mummies from Roman Egypt. These Mummy portraits are most common in the Faiyum Basin and the Hadrianic Roman city Antinoopolis. While painted cartonnage mummy cases date back to pharaonic times, the Faiyum mummy portraits were introduced at the time of the Roman occupation of Egypt.

The portraits date to the Imperial Roman era, from the late 1st century BC or the early 1st century AD  and their production, ended in the middle of the 3rd century. They are the few surviving examples of the panel painting tradition of the classical world, which was continued into Byzantine and Western cultures in the post-classical world, including the local tradition of Coptic iconography in Egypt.

Reflections on Fayum Mummy Portrait

  • Egyptian mummy portrait nearly 1,000 years-old, Roman or Hellenistic?

Explore the Walters Art Museum

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

~~~

“This is the Great Work of a man:
always to take the blame for his own sins before God
and to expect temptation to his last breath.”

– Coptic Proverb

~~~


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

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