Notes :

In 31 BC, after the Battle of Actium, Egypt became a Roman province. Many Romans settled there and adopted local funeral rituals, such as embalming. However, they introduced some of their own customs, especially that of portrait painting.


These paintings, created with wax or tempera on wood panels or canvas shrouds, were made during the lifetime of the model. After death, they were put on the mummy, on the face, replacing the traditional three-dimensional pharaonic mask and enabling identification of the deceased.

Appearing during the reign of Tiberius (14–37 AD), and in use until early 4th century A.D., the Fayum mummy portraits were primarily the work of itinerant artists heavily influenced by the Greek tradition of painting, especially that of Alexandria.

The portraits were unknown until 1887, when farmers discovered many of them at er-Rubayat, which were acquired by the Viennese antiquarian Theodor Ritter von Graf. The latter became known to the public by organising numerous exhibitions in Berlin, Munich, Paris, Brussels, London and New York.

In 1888, Flinders Petrie discovered around one hundred and fifty portraits at Hawara, in Fayum, confirming the authenticity of those excavated the preceding year.

About a thousand survive today, many of which are incomplete. The name “Fayum mummy portraits” originates from the region they were discovered, Fayum, but other portraits have been found throughout Egypt, especially at Saqqara, Thebes, Antinopolis and Akhmim.

The first known painted portraits in world art history, they are an unparalleled source of information, mixing Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures. Some are remarkable for the life that emerges from them and the expertise of the artist; others, more numerous, are stereotyped and conventional, characteristic of mass production («ready-made portraits»).



139 - The portrait depicts a young man of high social standing, about twenty-five years, slightly turned to the left.

He is dressed in a white tunic with a clearly defined neckline; a white cloak crosses over his chest and passes under the section falling from his left shoulder. The painter uses darker lines to indicate the number of folds.

The long face is lit from the right. The skin tones are subtly rendered and the lighting perfectly mastered.The beard and moustache are in short, straight strands rendered with fine intersecting lines. Fine nose overcomes the mouth with a thicker lower lip. The eyes, with drawn eyelashes, are watching the spectator. Hair are in short, straight strands rendered, girded with a crown of gold leaf.


The portrait is set in its cartonnage which is painted red. The window is surrounded by gilded stucco inlays. The torso is covered by a large usekh collar, also gilded, with three rows of pearls and featuring figures with the head of a falcon wearing the pschent. This decoration is very similar to that of the youth Artemidorus discovered by F. Petrie in Hawara (British Museum, EA 21810).


Encaustic thin wood panel, gold leaf, linen, red pigment and gilded stucco.

Egypt, Hawara, reign of Trajan, ca. 98-117 A.D.

Ensemble : 18,1 in. high - 14,5 in. wide (H_46 cm L_37 cm).

Portrait : 11,2 in. high - 6,5 in. wide (H_28,5 cm L_16,5 cm).


Provenance :

Ancient european collection, 1936.


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Fayum mummy portrait of a young man


Ancient european collection, 1936

Thanks to its precise details and masterful quality, this portrait is especially captivating and impressive. The artist has used large brushes here and finer brushes for the hair, beard and moustache. Great care has been taken to skilfully render all of the features, and the careful use of the medium creates a sense of life. The crown has been applied at the time of the funerary use of the portrait.

The hair, which is in straight strands, is characteristic of the reign of Trajan (98–117 AD). The cartonnage, similar to that of Artemidorus discovered by F. Petrie in Hawara in 1888 (British Museum EA 21810), indicates the same place of origin, the same approximate date and the likelihood that this was a member of the same family.


Bibliography (momie d’Artémidôros) :

Kl. Parlasca, Ritratti di mummie. Repertorio d’arte dell’Egitto greco-romano, vol. 1, Palerme, 1969, p. 71, n° 162.

S. Walker & M. Bierbrier, Ancient faces. Mummy portraits from roman Egypt, Londres, 1997, pp. 56-57, n° 32.