Fayum mummy portraits
• Mummy portraits or Fayum mummy portraits (also Faiyum mummy portraits) is the
modern term given to a type of realistic painted portraits on wooden boards attached
to mummies from Roman Egypt. 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 and Antinoopolis, hence the common name.
"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 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. The population of the Faiyum area was greatly
enhanced by a wave of Greek immigrants during the Ptolemaic period, initially by
veteran soldiers who settled in the area.
• 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.
Fayum mummy portraits
(1st century BC - middle of the 3rd century AD)
presentation by sotos