Encaustic on wood
14 15/16 in. x 8 3/4 in. (38 cm x 22.3 cm)
Director's Fund, 2013 (2013.438)
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 that appears to be Greco-Roman rather than pharaonic Egyptian in style. 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.