SAOC 56.

Portrait Mummies from Roman Egypt (I-IV Centuries A.D.) with a Catalog of Portrait Mummies in Egyptian Museums

Lorelei H. Corcoran

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In Egypt of the first century A.D., an alternative was introduced to the traditional use of painted masks of papier-mâché on wrapped and decorated mummies. A new technique, borrowed from the Hellenic tradition of painting in encaustic (colored wax) or water color on wooden panels or linen sheets, involved in the production of realistic images of the faces of men, women, and children. These idealized paintings were placed over the face of a wrapped mummy. The combination of impressionistically rendered face and a wrapped mummiform body has been interpreted as a synthesis of two contrasting contemporary cultures - Hellenic and native Egyptian. However, the author's analysis of the iconography of these mummies reveals that their decoration reflects the continuity of a cultural alignment that was fundamentally Egyptian. Her study documents a vital and articulate pagan tradition that survived in Egypt until the triumph of Christianity in the fourth century A.D.

Written from the perspective of an egyptologist, this analysis of an important corpus of objects includes an illustrated catalog of twenty-three mummy coverings with "portrait" faces in the collections of museums of the Arab Republic of Egypt. The volume will be of interest to egyptologists, classicists, art historians, and historians of religion.

  • Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 56
  • Chicago: The Oriental Institute, 1995
  • ISBN 0-918986-99-0
  • Pp. xxx + 250; 42 figures, 2 maps, 5 tables, 32 plates