Sunday, August 21, 2022

Egyptian Funerary Portraits

Realistic portraits adorned the tops of the caskets in Roman Egypt. 

The portraits were first discovered in the 19th century, and even to this day no one is completely sure how they were painted.

Some of the portraits are painted over a dimensional, sculpted base layer.

Modern researchers are carefully scraping off bits of paint and discovering the mix of wax and pigments. They're even using machine learning models to understand the patterns of brushstrokes. 

But they're not much closer to knowing who the artists were or what they were thinking.


Eugene Arenhaus said...

These are known as Fayum portraits.

There are very many of them, in varied skill level and varied preservation state. After the cult of the pharaohs got democratized and a lot more people began to be buried using the same mummification ritual, these portraits replaced the much more expensive funerary masks.

They were painted using encaustics. That's why so many managed to survive so well; virtually nothing destroys beeswax and mineral pigments.

Eugene Arenhaus said...

P.S. These did not adorn the caskets. These were tied into the bandages of the mummy, in front of the face.

CerverGirl said...

These are particularly realistic and have form--a progression from the flat profiles of earlier works of antiquity. Beautifully done. What a treasure portraiture brings to life centuries later--seeing what someone really looked like.

James Gurney said...

Thanks for the clarifications and corrections, Eugene.