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Petrie Museum (UCL) 009ROMAN PORTRAITS HISTORY OF THE PORTRAITS

The production of mummy portraits was confined to the Roman Period in Egypt, beginning in the middle of the 1st Century AD, when portraits were painted directly onto the linen envelope which surrounded the face of the mummy. A wax-based medium was employed in the 2nd and Third Centuries; distemper colour predominated in the 4th. The majority of portraits were painted on thin wooden panels prior to being secured over the face by linen wrappings. Full-length figure portraits on linen shrouds were less popular, painted using distemper colours, with both Hellenistic and Egyptian elements; they date from the mid-4th century. In about twenty cases the name of the individual portrayed was written in Greek or Demotic across the background of the portrait where the name "Isarous" is written in Greek.
Petrie's excavations at Hawara in the Faiyum in 1888 and 1911 yielded approximately 146 painted funerary portraits. The site was the burial ground for the occupants of the prosperous community of Arsinoe (see maps). Petrie's finding of a framed portrait, unattached, at the side of a mummy in a Hawara tomb, indicated such portraits were initially painted to be hung in the home during the lifetime of the owner, with the aim to show the sitter in a serene pose in the prime of life.
 
Most portraits were originally square prior to being cut down in size to adapt to the face of the mummy. Petrie found the trimmed side and corner pieces beneath one portrait, tucked into the mummy wrappings, which led him to the conclusion that the portrait of the individual was sent to the embalmer after death to have the frame removed, and be trimmed down to fit the mummy's face Sometimes a gold wreath painted across the hair, and a more elaborate form of jewellery would then be added to provide the deceased with greater richness of jewellery in the afterlife.
 
Some late 1st and early 2nd century portraits were clearly commissioned for a funerary purpose after death, as were the late portraits where the deceased holds a wreath of flowers or a libation vessel.
 
Petrie Museum (University College London).

Petrie Museum (UCL) 004  Petrie Museum (UCL) 012

 


 

 
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