Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt
February 15–May 7, 2000
Accompanied by a catalogue
From the first to third century A.D., the art of painted panel portraits flourished in Roman Egypt. Called Fayum portraits, these images were sometimes placed over the heads of mummies. Until recently almost entirely overlooked by scholars and the public alike, these are startlingly realistic portraits of men and women of all ages. With their direct full gaze and strong presence, these portraits, at once Greco-Roman in their painting style and intrinsically Egyptian in their purpose, bring the inhabitants of ancient Egypt before us with compelling immediacy.
Based on a similar exhibition at the British Museum in 1997, Ancient Faces presents approximately seventy of the finest Fayum portraits, drawn from museums throughout Europe and the United States. Accompanied by examples of beautiful mummy coverings and masks, jewelry, funerary stelae, and related works from the same period, the exhibition contextualizes the portraits in the complex culture of Roman Egypt and explores the full range of mummy portrait techniques—encaustic and tempera on wood panels, tempera paintings on linen, and painted masks and coffins of plaster and cartonnage.