Thursday, June 16, 2011

Exhibition: The Fayum mummy portraits of Egypt

Gadling (Sean McLachlan)

The pyramids, Tutankhamen's gold, the massive temples of Luxor and Karnak. . .the civilization of ancient Egypt has left us an incredible legacy, yet of all of these impressive monuments and treasures none has a more personal effect on the viewer than the Fayum mummy portraits.

During the Graeco-Roman period, after Egypt had fallen first to Alexander the Great and then to the Romans, the old traditions continued. Temples were still built, priests still wrote in hieroglyphics, and the wealthy were still mummified in order to guarantee their place in the afterlife.

The new rulers of Egypt took on some local customs. They often chose to be mummified in the Egyptian fashion, but added the touch of putting a portrait of the deceased over the wrappings covering the face. Painted on thin slats of wood, they were part of a trend called panel painting, considered by Classical writers to be one of the highest forms of art.

Al Masry Al Youm (Hoda Nessef)

Mummy portraits or Fayoum mummy portraits (also Fayoum 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 Fayoum 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 Fayoum Basin, particularly from Hawara and Antonopoulos, hence the common name. "Fayoum Portraits" is generally thought of as a stylistic, rather than a geographic, description. While painted Cartonnage mummy cases date back to pharoahnic times, the Fayoum mummy portraits were an innovation dating to the time of the Roman occupation of Egypt.

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