Fayum portrait is the modern name for a style of realistic painted portrait which was attached to mummies during the period of roman Egypt. These mummy portraits have been found in all parts of Egypt, but are mostly concentrated in the Fayum Oasis. These portraits are the examples of modern portraiture. They are founded before centuries. They are almost founded in the 19th century and they were painted between 50BCE and 250 CE. About 900 mummy portraits are known at present. Due to the hot dry Egyptian climate, the paintings are frequently very well well-looked after, often holding their brilliant colors seemingly unfaded by time.
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These paintings can be regarded as the product of a society that combined several cultures, they link together traditional imagery of religious Egyptian and Roman ideas; furthermore, their appearance can be connected to the process of Christianization of the Roman Empire since Fayum portraits are very similar to the style of religious paintings inherent to Christianity. Typically, a portrait depicts a face and shoulders of a person, painted on a twelve by six inches piece of wood. Therefore, the Fayum portraits are the real-life representations of a deceased person (Dash par. 4).
The Importance of Mummification
Mummies were dead body that have been saved after death, because in the old age Egyptians believed in after life after death. They called the process used to preserve their bodies was mummification. The Egyptians used the practice of mummification for almost two thousand years, further extending it to the Roman period.
With the practice constantly changing, more and more people were able to afford it despite the fact that the initial mummifications were only intended for the population with a wealthy status. Mummification was used by Egyptians to support their beliefs that the body of a person was the “house for the soul” (Ancient History Encyclopedia par. 4). It was believed that after the death the soul of a person would be alive for as long as the body stays preserved. Thus, if the body is gone, the spirit of a person will also be gone.
Historical and Social Framework
The diverse population of Egyptians and Romans offered a stable framework for the development of new phenomena in art. Apart from showing the hairstyles and jewellery worn by people in the Roman-Egypt times, Fayum portraits give an idea about the popular fashion of that time, a fashion that was significantly influenced by the Romans, since portraits show no correlation to the style inherent to the Pharaonic times of Egypt (The Met par. 8).
Because the painters of Fayum portraits possessed different sets of skills, the manner in which the portraits were painted varied significantly. In addition, there is a question about whether the physical characteristics depicted in the portraits were important to customers, or painters themselves. By comparing two portraits of the same person, John Prag was able to find both differences and similarities in the way various painters approached their jobs (56).
Fayum portraits predominantly depict young men, young women, and children. Based on this fact, they were either painted when a person was still alive, or they point at the evidence that the life expectancy of that time was quite low (Lahanas par. 7).
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Paintings were mostly painted with different techniques some were painted with beeswax and some were painted with different ingredients. There paintings were very different from any typical Egyptian style it was known as, Greco-Roman Egypt. however, they used Greek style it was totally Egyptian. Those were first found by an Italian Explorer called Pietro della valle.
The majority of portraits were found in a damaged condition; thus, they probably were not only attached to the coffins of the deceased but also they were available for display. Furthermore, some portraits were discovered with a string attached to them, which means that they were probably hung in people’s houses.
Artistic Conventions of Egyptians and Greco-Romans
Since the Fayum portraits were a result of combining two cultures, it is important to discuss their artistic background. Usually the Egyptians depicted people in a profile view, so that the nose, chin, and forehead are the most prominent features. In addition, the style of painting was linked to mathematical calculation to sustain the balance in the imagery. While the Greco-Romans also aspired to keeping the harmony in their artistic works, their approach was different. Their style of painting can be called classical, since they depicted the surrounding environment in accordance with their natural characteristics (Guisepi par. 1).
The portrait was painted on a wooden panel of a young man honoring his life. He has a handsome face with accurate characteristics. He has a straight nose with a half beard and clear skin. He had a serious expression on his face. The roman style will always have used to put their hair on the right side however he is using the same style. His features were large and wide and large eyes. This portrait function was to be part of the funerary group where it would be placed over the mummified body to keep up with Egyptian traditions. The artist used realistic style in the painting, that everything would look real.
People depicted in the Fayum portraits belonged to different cultures and religions. The changes that occurred in the practice were also not surprising since the Egyptian and Roman cultures came together to form a new and diverse culture. While the methods and the styles of the Fayum portraits are known to the modern scientists, the main intention for the paintings has not been defined yet. Nevertheless, the Fayum portraits play a role of a display that preserved the history of Egypt and the Roman Empire during the period of institutional changes, illustrating the cultural and religious practices inherent to these cultures (Hayward, Hayward and Swanson 25).
Fayum portraits are some ancient paintings that are ancient multicultural society and cultural exchange and practice of mummification. These portraits were most probably painted by an artist who were deeply influenced by the greeks. Those portraits had deep descriptions and deep meaning one. They also had specific features that they will look directly through your eyes and will be straight away looking at you. They were fully Egyptian portraits but influenced by the greeks which was creative and not only that they were painted in some very high techniques as mentioned in the introduction.
I like those painting because they look realistic and I love paintings that they look real more than artificial, fake or imaginary paintings. I think they are also creative because not every painting can be easily look so real and can live for a very long time as those. They are almost living for two thousand years ago and still in a very good condition, which Is amazing in my opinion like it is a miracle that a painting will stay in this condition for this long. This paintings affects my feelings because when I think of such great artist and inspiration it motivates me to work harder and get more creative in my university career which being an artist and a designer.
Ancient History Encyclopedia. Mummification in Ancient Egypt. 2012.
Dash, Mike. The Fayum Mummy Portraits. 2016.
Guisepi, Robert. Greek and Roman Art. n.d.
Hayward, Andrew, Katie Hayward, and Matthew Swanson. History, Culture, and Analysis of the Fayum Mummy Portraits. 2014. PDF file.
Lahanas, Michael. The Mysterious Fayum Portraits. n.d.
Prag, John. Proportion and Personality in the Fayum Portraits. n.d. PDF file.
The Met. Ancient Faces: Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt. 2000.