Egypt, 1st century A.D.

The Lady in Blue

"In my lifetime I was his only and beloved wife.

His lips stole my soul from my icy mouth.

In tears, he kissed my fallen eyes.

It is enough, in death, to honour a woman".

Monument of the Statilia family.

A Fayum mummy portrait of a woman

Exceptional for both its pictorial quality and state of preservation, this Fayum mummy portrait depicts a young woman of high social standing, slightly turned to the right.

She is dressed in a white tunic, with mauve clavi, shoulders covered with a blue cloak.

Her face is broad, with a rounded chin and dark-ringed eyes. Her solemn gaze is averted from the viewer; her irregular eyebrows extend to the temples. The thin, straight nose dominates the clearly defined, faintly smiling mouth. Her pearly complexion, light pink in tone and with ivory highlighting, is subtly achieved by juxtaposed strokes along the contours of the face; here, the painter perfectly exploited the density of the wax.

The hair frames the face with a double row of small curls in relief, followed by another lighter row, which stands out against the shaded gray background; the hair is pulled back and separated by a central parting. Two heavy coiled braids fall behind the ears, onto the shoulders. This hairstyle can be found in portraits of Agrippina the Younger and Claudia Octavia.

She wears two-hemisphere earrings, of which the brilliance is achieved by white highlights. A twisted gold chain with a pendant in the shape of a figure completes the set of jewellery.

Encaustic thin wood panel, rounded at the top.

Traces of linen mummy wrappings on the lower part.

Egypt, 1st century A.D., reign of Nero, 54 - 68 A.D.

15 in. high - 8,8 in. wide (38 cm - 22,3 cm)

Provenance :

European private collection, 1972.

Ancient european private collection, 1968.

< Photo

Publication :

Kl. Parlasca, “Mummy Portraits : Old and New Problems”, dans Portraits and Masks. Burial customs in Roman Egypt, London, British Museum,1997, p. 128, pl. 16, fig. 3.

Publication :

Kl. Parlasca & H. G. Frenz, Ritratti di mummie. Repertorio d’arte dell’Egitto Greco-Romano, Série B, vol. IV, Rome, 2003, p. 37, n° 675, pl. G, fig. 1.

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»).

According to Klaus Parlasca, this portrait is one of the finest in existence ("The portrait of a woman is one of the best of its genre", London, 1997).

It depicts a woman of high-social rank, a Hellenistic idealised portrait, of which the meticulous use of encaustic generates a sense of life. Her hair, subtly worked with raised strokes, is modelled directly on those of Agrippina the Younger and Claudia Octavia, allowing precise dating to the reign of Nero, that is 54–68 AD.

Exhibition :

Augenblicke : Mumienporträts und ägyptische Grabkunst aus römischer Zeit, Schirn Kunsthalle or Frankfurt, 30 January - 11 April 1999, n° 116, under the direction of Klaus Parlasca and Hellmut Seemann.

Publication :

H. G. Frenz, Augenblicke : Mumienporträts und ägyptische Grabkunst aus römischer Zeit, exhibition catalogue, Frankfurt, 1999, p. 208-209, n° 116, ill.

Exhibition :

Tod am Nil. Tod und Totenkult im antiken Ägypten, Austrian Library, Vienna, 22 July 2003 - 5 March 2004,

n° 36, under the direction of Harald Froschauer, Christian Gastgeber and Hermann Harrauer.

Publication :

H. Froschauer and H. Harrauer, Tod am Nil. Tod und Totenkult im antiken Ägypten, exhibition catalogue, Vienna, Austria, 2003, pp. 102-103 and p. 131, pl. 13b.

Result : € 1 465 000  -  $ 1 989 000