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Work Portrait of a woman

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

Portrait of a woman

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Georges Poncet

Egyptian Antiquities
Roman Egypt (30 BC - AD 392)

Author(s):
Aubert Marie-France

The young woman is portrayed almost full face, her bust turned slightly to the left. She is wearing a dark tunic with green clavi, and a dark mantle over her left shoulder. Her hair is parted in two bands which cover her ears. She has a braid on top of her head and a row of little ringlets framing her forehead. Her lips are particularly well defined, and she has a dimple on her chin.

Portrait of a young woman

The dark clothing, severe hairstyle, and discreet jewelry contrast with the woman's young, oval face, which is outlined in ocher to make it stand out from the background. Her thick eyebrows are portrayed with fine black hatching on the upper part. The nose is long but perfectly defined. Each gold earring has three pearls, two of which hang from a horizontal bar. This type of jewelry was created in the Roman period and was fashionable from the first through the third century AD. The necklace consists of long, dark green stones and emeralds alternating with groups of two or three pearls. Emeralds were used in their natural crystalline form: a hexagonal prism.

Precious stones

The Greeks and Romans believed gemstones to possess prophylactic, magical, and astrological powers; the emerald was ranked third after the diamond and the pearl. During the Roman period, emerald mines were exploited in Egypt, notably on Mons Smaragdus. There was a preference for pearl jewelry during the Roman Empire, despite it being the most expensive. Pearls were brought from the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf - those from the Island of Dilmun (modern Bahrain) were considered the most beautiful.

Technique

Small, tight brushstrokes were used for the background, face, and hair; large, sweeping strokes for the clothing. The painter paid great attention to the hair, rendering its waviness with dark parallel strokes which are now almost imperceptible. The dark mark on the nose is due to paint erosion, which has allowed the black undercoat to show through.

Bibliography

Catalogue de l'exposition Un siècle de fouilles françaises en Egypte 1880-1980, Paris, musée d'Art et d'Essai-Palais de Tokyo, 21 mai-15 octobre 1981, n 339

Technical description

  • Portrait of a woman

    Second century AD

    A. Gayet excavations, 1904-05, Antinoe

  • Fig wood painted with encaustic

    H. 36.8 cm; W. 17 cm

  • Excavation gift, 1905

    E 12569 (P 214)

  • Egyptian Antiquities

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