Roman Period Mummy Portrait

late 2nd century CE
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General Description

The idea of the mummy mask, which was placed over the embalmed and shrouded body of a dead person, goes back in Egyptian art to the Middle Kingdom (early 2nd millennium B.C.E). Even earlier, "reserve heads," or magical portraits of the dead person, were left in Old Kingdom tombs. The mummy mask took different forms over the long course of Egyptian art, but retained the idea of an impersonation of the dead person. During the period of Greek rule in Egypt, mummy masks were made in the form of Hellenistic Greek portraiture. Under the Roman Empire, in the first three centuries A.D., the realistic character of Roman portraiture is reflected in mummy masks, as it is in the painted encaustic over wood portraits from the Faiyum. This head is essentially a Roman imperial portrait, though it has underlying funerary symbolism inherited from the Egyptian cult of the dead. The woman wears recognizable types of late second-century CE earrings and necklace, similar examples of which are in the DMA's ancient jewelry collection (1996. 35.A-B) and (1995.26).

Adapted from

  • Anne R. Bromberg, and Karl Kilinski II, Gods, Men, and Heroes: Ancient Art at the Dallas Museum of Art. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996), 102.

  • Anne Bromberg, Label copy [1995.82], 2001.