Height: 45.750 cm
Gift of W.M. Flinders Petrie
GR 1889.10-18.1 (Paintings 85)
Room 69: Greek and Roman life
Framed portrait of a woman, with cord for suspension
Roman, made in Egypt about AD 50-70.
Excavated by Flinders Petrie at Hawara, Egypt
A momento of a loved one?
The portrait is badly damaged, with more than half of the paint flaked and missing. What remains is part of the face and the shoulders of a woman dressed in a pink tunic and wearing pearl earrings. In contrast, the morticed frame is in good condition, and still preserves the cord (of palm fibre) by which the portrait was suspended. A grooved channel at the front of the frame suggests it originally had a protective cover of wood, or less likely, glass, which is now missing.
The painting was executed in the tempera technique: the pigment is mixed with wax to give an effect similar to oil-paint. Although it was found in a grave, the size of the portrait suggests that it is not a 'mummy portrait', used to cover the face of the deceased. Instead, this piece seems to have been used as a portrait within a home and must have been particularly important to the person with whose mummy it was buried: the portrait was propped against the legs, facing inwards. Sadly we know nothing of this mummy, which had no mummy portrait and was not identified by the excavator, Flinders Petrie.
S. Walker and M. Bierbrier, Ancient faces: mummy portrai-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)
W.M.F. Petrie, Hawara, Brahma and Arsinoe (London, Field & Tuer, 1889)