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Work Shroud of a child's mummy

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

Shroud of a child's mummy

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Christian Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
Roman Egypt (30 BC - AD 392)

Roberta Cortopassi

This shroud comes from a child's mummy. A child is portrayed in the center, inside a shrine coffin adorned with two columns and a pediment featuring a winged sun-disk and two uraeus cobras. The middle of the child's body is covered by a netting with geometric motifs resembling an architectural decor, surmounted by a winged scarab. The frame is composed of a garland of leaves and fruits. One end of the cloth has an openwork band terminating in a fringe.

A richly dressed child

This is a frontal representation of a child whose round head and shoulders stand out against a gray background. His white tunic is richly decorated with woven trim: clavii, neckband, medallions at the shoulders, double trim at the wrists, and rightangled strips at the hem. The tunic ends just above the ankles; the child's feet are clad in sandals. He wears many pieces of jewelry: a torque neck-ring with a bulla pendant, another necklace with a cylinder (for magical formulae with protective powers), a bracelet on each wrist, and two rings on his left hand. This jewelry (with the exception of the necklace) is in painted stucco. The boy's arms are bent in front of his chest; his right hand touches the bulla, his left holds the crown of justification. His elbows jut over the shrine coffin, creating an impression of depth. The middle of his body from waist to thigh is covered by a netting.
The image of the child is placed inside a shrine coffin formed by two small columns and a pediment featuring the winged sun-disk. The columns, consisting of papyrus bundles (symbolizing regeneration), are painted in yellow and red.

Under the protection of the Egyptian gods

The vignettes down both sides of the shroud represent (from top to bottom, left to right): two bare-breasted mourners with ewers, painted in the Hellenistic style; Isis and Nephthys with their protective wings oustretched; the deceased portrayed alive, accompanied by Anubis (in a badly damaged vignette); Osiris, or the deceased as Osiris, flanked by two ankh signs; Anubis the embalmer (also badly damaged); Anubis carrying the mummy, with the key to the Underworld in his right hand; the scales for weighing the heart, with that of the mummy on one of the pans; Osiris the judge; a skull, two ankh signs and a snake; an edifice with four columns symbolizing the tent of purification.
A black band with yellow nails frames each of these vignettes. The entire shroud is bordered by a garland of leaves and brightly colored petals, with a bunch of grapes at the top in the center.

Social status, and clues to dating the shroud

One clue to dating this shroud is the richly decorated Coptic-style tunic, which contrasts with the austere tunics (with clavii) of mummy portraits from the 1st and 2nd centuries. The oriental-influenced tunic came into fashion from the 3rd century, and was especially popular during the 4th century.
The social status of the family is indicated by the quantity and richness of the jewelry, unusual for a child - but the round stucco pendant (or "bulla") and the cylindrical pendant containing prophylactic magical formulae were typical of children's jewelry.
The painting technique is mixed, with encaustic for the face and bust, and tempera for the rest.
As the shroud enveloped the child's mummy (af6492)*, the vignettes were placed down the sides. Once the shroud had been removed from the mummy it was stuck to a modern canvas; today it is presented like a painting.

Technical description

  • Shroud of a child's mummy

    3rd century AD

    Antinoe, A. Gayet excavations

  • Linen, painted in encaustic and tempera and partly stuccoed

    H. 1.15 m; W. 0.62 m

  • Transferred from the Musée Guimet in 1948

    AF 6486

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Lower ground floor
    Roman Egypt (room closed for renovation)
    Room 183

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