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Work Panel portrait of a man

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

Panel portrait of a man

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Georges Poncet

Egyptian Antiquities
Roman Egypt (30 BC - AD 392)

Author(s):
Cortopassi Roberta

The bust of the deceased stands out against a yellow ocher background painted onto a piece of rough canvas cut into the shape of a niche. The head - the only element portrayed in relief - is made of compressed, stuccoed linen. At the bottom of the panel, below a garland, is a painted representation of the boat of the god Sokaris, guarded by two jackals. Panel portraits of this type represent the final evolution of this funerary tradition.

A portrait of a man

The triangular face is in very high relief, and painted in bright colors. The beard and moustache are black, without relief effects. The expression is highlighted by the heavily made-up eyelids and thick, dark eyebrows. The skin is dark ocher in color, with violet circles to indicate the cheeks. The black hair is rendered in relief, and continued onto the canvas background with two painted curls. A crown of myrtle leaves alternating with skillfully depicted precious stone cabochons encircles the head. The necklace, with a large pendant in the form of a naos shrine, is painted yellow to symbolize gold.

Clothing and decoration

The man's under-tunic is trimmed with black clavii, his over-tunic with purple. On either side of the visible clavus, dotted yellow lines represent bands of decorative weave ending in fringes, such as featured on the Coptic-style tunics unearthed from Egyptian cemeteries. The sleeves are long and fringed; a cloak with a purple swastika-shaped motif is draped over one shoulder This motif, originally an oriental solar symbol, often adorned cloaks during the Roman Period. Dark lines indicate the folds in the clothing. The hands are outlined in dark ocher, and the nails are painted white. There are two rings on the left hand, which holds the Osirian crown of justification; in the right hand is a two-handled cup. A garland separates the representation of the bust from the rectangle at the bottom of the panel, in which the boat of the Memphite funerary god Sokar is depicted against a white background. On either side, a seated jackal wears the key to the Underworld at its neck.

A chapel re-used as a tomb

About fifteen panel portraits of this type were found at Deir el-Bahri, in the chapel of Anubis at the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut (1479-1457 BC) - a chapel that was re-used as a tomb during the Roman Period. They were sewn and fastened with a strap to the shroud that enveloped the mummy. The straps on this particular portrait can still be seen, at the top and bottom. The mummy was then placed in a terracotta "coffin". All the panel portraits found show practically identical iconography: both men and women are portrayed holding the crown and cup, and wearing the cabochon headband. Sokar's boat always features in the rectangles below the portraits. The only variations are in the jewelry and clothing (especially that of women). These panel portraits, with their marked features and bright polychromy, are the last testimony of pagan funerary practices in Egypt.

Bibliography

- ABERT 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° 26.

- DESTI M., Les Portraits funéraires égyptiens d’époque romaine du Musée des Beaux-arts, Bulletin des musées de Dijon 3, 1997, p. 25, fig. 3.

- GRIMM G., Die Römischen Mumienmasken aus Ägypten, Wiesbaden, 1974, p. 95, 143, 190.

- PARLASCA K., Mumienporträts und Verwandte Denkmäler, Wiesbaden, 1966, p. 208, pl. 52,4 ;

- RIGGS C., Roman period mummy masks from Deir el-Bahari, The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 86, 2000, p. 125, 128, 131, 135, 143 ;

Technical description

  • Panel portrait of a man

    Late 3rd to early 4th century AD

    Deir el-Bahri, Naville excavations, 1893-94

  • Linen and stucco, paint

    H. 90 cm; L. 32 cm

  • Gift of the Egyptian Exploration Fund, transferred from the Musée Guimet in 1948

    E 20359

  • Egyptian Antiquities

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