Fayum Portrait, c. 200 CE, encaustic paint on limewood, 13¾” x 6¾”, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Fayum Mummy Portraits: Gaze into their Eyes

This is a portrait painted on a piece of wood that was affixed to the head of a mummified body.  This fayum portrait, a type of portrait named for the Fayum region of Lower Egypt, and others like it are some of the most arresting images from the history of art because we can gaze into the eyes of the person, laying there, mummified, who lived about 2,000 years ago.

Fayum portraits date from the Late Egyptian Era after Alexander the Great from Macedonia conquered the Egyptians in 332 BCE and Egypt eventually became part of the Roman Empire in 30 BCE.  Egyptians mummified the dead for centuries, but these fayum portraits betray Greco-Roman influence with their stress upon individuality.

Judging from the faint hair on this person’s upper lip, it appears he was a young man when he died.  This individual also had an abnormality of his right eye; it appears that an incision was made along the bottom lid.

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