Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Panel painting of a woman in a blue mantle

Roman Period
A.D. 54–68
From Egypt
Encaustic on wood
H. 38 cm (14 15/16 in.); W. 22.3 cm (8 3/4 in.)
Credit Line:
Director's Fund, 2013
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 137
This young woman is revealed frankly in direct white light, her tiny, elaborate curls and gay light-blue mantle striking a somewhat discordant note with her somber eyes and large, strong face. In her ears she wears ball earrings and around her neck, a double-wound chain from which hangs a small golden figure. The texture of the encaustic medium, worked with brushes and tools, reveals the artist’s careful shaping of the curves and dimensionality of the face.

A date for this panel in the mid-first century A.D. is indicated by the sitter’s hairstyle—modeled on that of the Emperor Nero’s mother, Agrippina—as well as other features of the painting. The work belongs to the first generation of painted panel portraits, which only emerged as an Egyptian funerary style just before the mid-first century A.D., to continue for only approximately two hundred years. The delicately thin panels were attached over the faces of wrapped mummies, so that the curvature of the panel reflects this original use.

The mummies with their portraits might be kept on view in funerary chapels or other locations before finally being buried. This panel appears to have been slightly updated before final burial....the neckline was lowered and the necklace and pendant seem to have been added at that time. The pendant on the necklace has recently been identified as Omphale, a figure of Greek mythology whose liaison with Herakles gave her power over the womb and the travails of childbirth and, by extension, over rebirth after death.

Link to the Artist Project
Y.Z. Kami on Egyptian mummy portraits
Purchased 1968 by Uwe Schnell from Heinz Herzer Gallery, Munich. Purchased 1972 by the owner of the Tamerit Collection. Purchased by the Museum from Pierre Bergé & Associés, Paris, 2013.

Parlasca, Klaus 1997. "Mummy Portraits: Old and New Problems." In Portraits and Masks. Burial Customs in Roman Egypt, p. 128, pl. 16.3.

Parlasca, Klaus 1997. "Mummy Portraits: Old and New Problems." In Portraits and Masks: Burial Customs in Roman Egypt, p. 128, pl. 16.2.

Parlasca, Klaus and Hans G. Frenz 2003. Ritratti di Mummie, Series B Volume IV. Repertorio d'arte dell'Egitto Greco-Romano, p. 37 no. 675, color plate G.

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