c. AD 25–37
Encaustic on wood
Overall: 39.4 x 17.4 cm (15 1/2 x 6 7/8 in.)
John L. Severance Fund 1971.137
This painting can be dated based on the hairstyle popular at the end of the reign of Emperor Tiberius (reigned AD 14–37).
Traditional Egyptian burial practices continued well into Roman times. These lifelike portraits were made for a specific purpose: to cover the head of the mummified individual represented in the portrait. Typically, they were painted with encaustic (pigment mixed with beeswax) on wooden panels, as was the case here. Less frequently, they were painted directly onto the linen shrouds that covered the mummy. Hairstyles, jewelry, and clothing are carefully rendered according to contemporary fashion. Meticulously rendered details such as skin tone, facial hair, and bone structure suggest a keen sense of the subject's individuality, and with it, an inevitable sense of mortality. The addition of gilded details on the lips and jewelry is a rare detail that alludes to the individual's transformation in death into a blessed spirit, or akh, a being of light.
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