EGYPTIAN FAIYUM PORTRAIT OF A FEMALE, CIRCA 2ND-3RD CENTURY A.D.

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Culture: Egyptian
Date: Ca. 2nd – 3rd century A.D.
Medium: Linen
Condition: Intact, fragmentary, mounted on a floating board.
Provenance: Ex- French private collection, 1996; California Museum of Ancient Art.
Dimensions: 13 1/4 x 20 3/4 in. (33.7 x 52.7 cm.)
Ref No. EG1152

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Description

Portrait from Roman Egypt. A very rare, life like mummy portrait on linen, similar stylistically and iconographically to the Fayum portraits. Depicting a beautiful, young, wealthy female wearing a refined long sleeve dress of breathtaking vivid pastel pink hues with light and dark blue trim, and elaboratly adorned with a double strand necklace and a gold ring placed upon her right finger ring.

A bird of colorful red and blue plumes, most likely symbolizing the Egyptian god Horus who often appears in Egyptian funerary art. Perches upon her shoulder, she holds what was most likely a wreath of pink rose petals. While most examples were made of encaustic (melted wax) paint on wood, this example was created via much less common technique whereby the artist applied colored stucco or tempera paint to a linen shroud. While portraits painted on wooden panels were usually created while the subject was actually alive and put on display in the home, portraits on linen like this example were painted posthumously. A quintessential Egyptian Romano portrait, skillfully composed to highlight the woman’s direct frontal gaze and mesmerizing presence: The likeness certainly exemplifies the Greco-Roman painting style, but at the same time, its purpose that is to present an ancient person with captivating immediacy, was most definitely Egyptian in character. This piece represents a remarkable fusion of Egyptian practices with the Greco-Roman aesthetic. As we can see, the portrait depicts the deceased woman in the prime of her youth, dressed to impress with elegant hair and jewelry that imitated the fashions of imperial Rome, however the custom of mummification to accompany the deceased in the afterlife was most definitely Egyptian. Egyptian Romano portraits on linen are very rare, and this particular one is quite exceptional not only for the technique but also for the sitter’s transfixing presence and the painting’s paramount artistry. Framed and mounted on a floating mat.

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