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Work Portrait of a woman

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

Portrait of a woman

© Musée du Louvre/G. Poncet

Egyptian Antiquities
Roman Egypt (30 BC - AD 392)

Author(s):
Marie-France Aubert

The face is thin, the cheekbones prominent, the eyes small. Smile lines run from the nose and frame the fleshy lips. This work is a rare example of a realistic stucco mask. This is a true portrait of a mature woman, different from the many stereotypical faces made using casts.

A realist portrait marked by age

The ocher-shaded face is sculpted: the cheekbones are prominent, and smile lines start at the right side of the nose and frame the thick, half-parted lips, leaving the front teeth visible. The small eyes and eyebrows are painted black. The ears are partially hidden by wavy black hair. There is a space for a wreath of roses, an attribute of one who has been judged worthy by Osiris. A thick braid is wrapped around her head, and she has three lines on her neck.
This plain face, marked by age, radiates an intense vitality and is similar to some of the portraits painted on wood.

A coffin mask

This mask is made of painted stucco and consists of a face and neck, with the addition of the hair, the veil (or fragmentary mantle), and the ears. The back of the flat, wide intermediate partition reveals the marks of wood grain, presumably because this mask was attached to a coffin.

Greco-Roman elements for an Egyptian custom

The hair, characterized by a "pretzel-shaped" braid, is that of Sabine, wife of Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138). The teeth are visible through the half-open mouth; this is a characteristic feature in Hellenistic portraits, but is relatively unusual on stucco masks from the Roman period in Egypt. The three lines on the neck are a stylistic detail common to Egyptian and Greek art.
The faces on the stucco masks, produced in series using casts, are often stereotypical. There are few examples of true portraits, such as this depiction of a woman.

Bibliography

S. Walker, M. Bierbrier, catalogue de l'exposition Ancient Faces. Mummy portraits from Roman Egypt, Londres, British Museum, 1997, n 155 ;

S. Walker (éd.), catalogue de l'exposition Ancient Faces. Mummy portraits from Roman Egypt, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 15 février-7 mai 2000, n 89 ;

Technical description

  • Portrait of a woman

    AD 100-150

  • painted stucco

    H. 18.5 cm; W. 19.5 cm

  • Purchased 1899

    AF 2128

  • Egyptian Antiquities

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

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