Mummy portraits or Fayum mummy portraits (also Faiyum mummy portraits) is the modern term given to a type of naturalistic painted portrait on wooden boards attached to Egyptian mummies from the Coptic period. They belong to the tradition of panel painting, one of the most highly regarded forms of art in the Classical world. In fact, the Fayum portraits are the only large body of art from that tradition to have survived.
Mummy portraits have been found across Egypt, but are most common in the Faiyum Basin, particularly from Hawara in the Fayum Basin (hence the common name) and the Hadrianic Roman city Antinoopolis. “Faiyum Portraits” is generally thought of as a stylistic, rather than a geographic, description. While painted cartonnage mummy cases date back to pharaonic times, the Faiyum mummy portraits were an innovation dating to the Coptic period at the time of the Roman occupation of Egypt.
They date to the Roman period, from the late 1st century BC or the early 1st century AD onwards. It is not clear when their production ended, but recent research suggests the middle of the 3rd century. They are among the largest groups among the very few survivors of the highly prestigious panel painting tradition of the classical world, which was continued into Byzantine and Western traditions in the post-classical world, including the local tradition of Coptic iconography in Egypt.
The portraits covered the faces of bodies that were mummified for burial. Extant examples indicate 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 clearly derive more from Graeco-Roman traditions than Egyptian ones.
Two groups of portraits can be distinguished by technique: one of encaustic (wax) paintings, the other in tempera. The former are usually of higher quality. About 900 mummy portraits are known at present. The majority were found in the necropoleis of Faiyum. Due to the hot dry Egyptian climate, the paintings are frequently very well preserved, often retaining their brilliant colours seemingly unfaded by time.
Personally I`ve seen some at the Museum and was stunned and hypnotized by the ancient 2000 year-old faces looking at me as if they were there with me.
Hathor chapel at the temple of
III in Deir el-Bahari, photo from excavation by Henry Edouard Naville (1907), painted sandstone, H. 225cm, with statue of Hathor as divine cow, today exposed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (Ground Floor, Room 12), JE 38574-5
Ancient Egyptian jewelry depicting the ba, a human-headed falcon that symbolized one’s unique personality. Artist unknown; 3rd cent. BCE (Ptolemaic period). Now in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. Photo credit: Walters Art Museum.
A set of four ancient Egyptian limestone canopic jars, used for holding organs removed from the deceased during the mummification process. Each of the jars represents one of the four sons of Horus: (L-R)
jackal-headed Duamutef (stomach); baboon-headed Hapi (lungs);
falcon-headed Qebehsenuef (intestines); and human-headed Imsety (liver). Artist unknown; ca. 900-800 BCE (Third Intermediate Period). Found at Abydos; now in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. Photo credit: Walters Art Museum.
Statuary group representing the scribe Pendua and his wife Nefertari, found in Deir el-Medina.
The couple embrace in an unusual depiction.
New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty, ca.
1292-1186 BC. Egyptian Museum, Turin.
My entry for June’s Character Design’s Challenge ! Theme was : Egyptian Gods
Anubis, protector of the embalmers. He opens the eyes and mouth of the dead corpse, to free the soul and guide it to the room of judgement.
The final version of my CDC participation for June!! I hesitated a long time between Anubis, Sekhmet and Ammit, but then I had this picture of chest-mouth for Anubis, focused around the face that he opens the eyes and mouth of the embalmed dead corpse to help the soul get out of it! Will make the next participation even better o9 I want to try a different process for the next entry, a messier one x) (though I also want to better this process too ! but I can alternate between tests uvu)
Ancient Egyptian amulet depicting a ram-headed falcon, made from gold, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and carnelian. Artist unknown; 26th regnal year of Ramesses II “the Great” = 1254 BCE. Found in the tomb of an Apis bull in the Serapeum of Memphis, Saqqara; now in the Louvre. Photo credit: Guillaume Blanchard/Wikimedia Commons.