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Work Mummy mask of a woman

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Roman Egypt (30 BC - AD 392)

Panel portrait of a woman

© R.M.N./Les frères Chuzeville

Egyptian Antiquities
Roman Egypt (30 BC - AD 392)

Author(s):
Cortopassi Roberta

This is a portrait of a young woman. The fine features of her rather fleshy face are carefully modeled and painted, and the hairstyle is simple. She is portrayed wearing a blue tunic with purple clavii, and a cloak that covers the back of her neck. Her many pieces of heavy jewelry were originally gilded with gold leaf. She holds the Osirian crown of justification in her right hand, and in her left, ears of corn and poppies, which were associated with the cult of Isis Demeter.

The portrait of a woman

The face is fleshy, with a dimpled double chin. The pupil in the painted eyes is indicated by a hole in the stucco. The hair is parted in the middle and drawn into a braided chignon, held in place with a pin. Two more pins were originally placed near the first, but these are now lost. The blue tunic with purple clavii accentuates the form of the small, pointed breasts. The cloak rises high at the back of the neck and falls over the shoulders; it is adorned with a dark-colored right-angled pattern. The woman's hands are laid flat on her belly; the right hand holds the Osirian rose petal crown of justification; under the left are (formerly gilded) ears of corn and poppies, which were associated with the cult of Demeter (assimilated to Isis).

A splendid set of jewelry

The woman is portrayed wearing many jewelry items, all of which are in relief and were originally gilded. An ocher preparation is visible where the gold leaf has disappeared. Each item is accentuated by a painted red line on the pink skin, to indicate the shadow and reflection of the gold jewelry. The earrings, shaped like bunches of grapes, are attached to a horizontal bar, and around the woman's neck are two chains and a pearl necklace with three round pendants. One of the three rings on her left hand is a double one which links the middle and ring fingers. There used to be two stiff, heavy bracelets on each wrist, but one of these is now lost. Behind the head is a painted representation of the deceased as Osiris, arms folded across the chest, holding the scepter and whip. On either side of the god, a rectangle evoking a stele or label bears what may be Greek letters. A black snake originally featured beneath each rectangle; one of these is partly conserved, but the other is badly damaged.

Dating elements

This mask is characterized by the contrast between the absolute simplicity of the face and the richness of the jewelry. The jewelry items well illustrate the fashions of the period. The double ring linking two fingers corresponds to a model which is also to be found in a number of archaeological collections.
The meaning of the right-angled pattern adorning the cloak remains a mystery. It is well attested to, however, by fragments of cloaks unearthed during archaeological digs, and also by many wall paintings from the Roman Period representing people whose cloaks are adorned with squares, swastikas, or designs in the shape of the letter "H".
The panel's perpendicular head suggests a relatively late date.

Bibliography

- AUBERT M.-F., CORTOPASSI R., Portraits de l’Egypte romaine, catalogue de l’exposition Paris, musée du Louvre, 5 octobre 1998-4 janvier 1999, Paris, 1998, n° 42.

- MICHALOWSKI K., L’Art de l’ancienne Egypte, Paris,1968, p. 338, fig. 139.

- PAVLOV V., Portraits égyptiens, Catalogue de l’exposition Moscou, , 1967, p. 21, fig. 21 (en russe).

- WALKER S., BIERBRIER M., Ancient Faces. Mummy portraits from Roman Egypt, Catalogue de l’exposition Londres, British Museum, 1997, n° 164 ;

- WALKER S. (éd.), Ancient Faces. Mummy portraits from Roman Egypt, Catalogue de l’exposition New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 15 février-7 mai 2000, n° 92.

- Koptische Kunst Christentum am Nil, Catalogue de l’exposition Essen, Villa Hügel, 3 mai-15 août 1963, n° 40.

- Art copte, Catalogue de l’exposition, Paris, Petit Palais, 17 juin-15 septembre 1964, n° 18.

- Un siècle de fouilles françaises en Egypte 1880-1980, Catalogue de l’exposition, Paris, musée d’Art et d’Essai-Palais de Tokyo, 21 mai-15 octobre 1981, n° 341.

Portraits au Louvre, Catalogue de l’exposition Tokyo, musée d’Art occidental, 18 septembre-1er décembre 1991, n° 22.

Technical description

  • Mummy mask of a woman

    3rd century AD

    Antinoe, A. Gayet excavations

  • Painted stucco, gold leaf

    H. 33 cm; W. 61 cm; L. 23 cm

  • Transferred from the Musée Guimet in 1948

    E 21360

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Lower ground floor
    Roman Egypt (room closed for renovation)
    Room A

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