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Work Woman's shroud

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

Woman's shroud

© 1996 Musée du Louvre / Christian Larrieu

Egyptian Antiquities
Roman Egypt (30 BC - AD 392)

Author(s):
Cortopassi Roberta

The woman is portrayed standing inside a painted shrine coffin. Almost all of the border and vignettes that once framed her are lost. She is simply dressed, making a gesture of prayer or salutation with her right hand, and holding an ankh in her left. This type of shroud, used to envelop a mummy, was characteristic of the city of Antinoe; it blended styles and beliefs of both pharaonic and Hellenistic origin.

Clothing and jewelry

The woman's face is young and round and her complexion very fair, with touches of pink on the cheeks and chin. The slightly almond-shaped eyes, looking to the right, are outlined with a black line (probably kohl) which is extended towards the temples. Despite the frontal representation, the aquiline nose was skillfully portrayed by the painter. The hair, with a central parting, forms a thick mass covering the ears, with a loose braid at the back of the head; a golden hairnet is the only adornment. The earrings consist of a horizontal bar and a pendant with three pearls. A gold necklace (with links shown in yellow) is partly hidden by the neck of the tunic. The woman's clothing is crimson in the center and dark mauve down the sides, which are adorned with a vertical yellow vine scroll. A white line at the neck suggests that there is an undertunic. The right hand is open with its palm toward the spectator, in a gesture of prayer or salutation; the left is holding an ankh, whose yellow color symbolizes gold. The fingers are extremely long and slender. The central part of the body and the bottom of the tunic are covered by a pattern of netting. The woman is wearing little red boots with straps that cross over at the ankles.

Meaning and signification of the funerary portrait

Above the netting, a very fragmentary Greek inscription inside a rectangular blue plaque (resembling a Roman tabula ansata) "labeled" the mummy, indicating her name (perhaps Crispina, or Cristina) and age (forty-five), together with the formula "Good luck." Next to her feet are two squares, each with an ankh sign on a red background. The red or blue-framed vignettes down the sides are almost all lost. Only the first at the bottom are still visible: two birds (probably falcons) face each other on either side of a vase. The shroud was framed by a garland of leaves and flowers and a red band.

A deceased woman holding an ankh

This shroud is rather plain in comparison with others of the same kind. The images are framed by simple bands with flat tints, and there are no stucco elements. The woman is also portrayed with a certain austerity, and her adornments are few - her necklace is partly hidden in the neck of her tunic, and she wears no rings. Her hairstyle corresponds to the fashion of the reign of the Emperor Constantine the Great (AD 306-37) and is therefore an important clue to dating.
Although the inscription tells us that the deceased woman was forty-five years old, the face is that of a much younger woman. Indeed, whatever the age of the deceased, faces in funerary portraits were almost always represented as young.
The gesture of the right hand, palm open toward the spectator, is of oriental origin. It features in many sculpted funerary portraits from Palmyra. Its exact signification is subject to debate: we do not know whether it was a gesture of prayer or of salutation. The ankh, which is represented three times on this shroud, was originally a hieroglyph meaning "life". It had very strong symbolic connotations, and was used throughout Egyptian history; it seems to have traversed the centuries from the Pharaonic to the Ptolemaic Period, the Roman Period, and finally the Christian era. For this reason, it has sometimes been claimed that the figures represented on the shrouds, and holding an ankh, were Christians.

Technical description

  • Woman's shroud

    4th century AD

    Antinoe, Albert Gayet excavations, 1900-1

  • Linen painted in encaustic and tempera

    H. 1.66 m; W. 0.85 m

  • AF 6440

  • Egyptian Antiquities

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

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