Is the museum haunted?
I haven't heard any tales of hauntings, but I have been in the Mummy Chamber when the lights were out and I can tell you it's pitch black and quite spooky!
Demetrios here was only just recently rotated into our gallery, previously, he had been on tour with some other objects from our collection. We'll have to see how he behaves now that he's home!
He yearns for freedom now that he's tasted the real world.
Perhaps! Before he entered our collection he had already traveled quite far though. Demetrios' portrait is a wonderful example of a "Fayum" portrait, named after the region of Egypt it comes from. Fayum portraits come from a community of Greek people living in Egypt in the Roman period. They represent the Greco-Roman painting tradition applied to Egyptian funerary practices.
Where is the writing of the age at death, 59, written? Is it visible?
The writing is about halfway down the body of the mummy in gold leaf. The numbers are in Greek, meaning they are letters. At the end of his name you'll see nu theta which translates to 59.
Was everyone allowed to be a mummy?
Yes! Mummification was part of burial practices for every Egyptian. The very wealthy could obviously afford a much more elaborate mummification process. There are three known methods for Mummification, each is sharply divided by price. The most expensive involved removing internal organs and a very long process of drying the body via salt and other compounds. The cheapest method involved liquifying the internal organs and later draining them though the deceased anus.
How heavy is this?
According to our records, the mummy of Demetrios weighs about 130 pounds.
It looks like you're photographed our mummy Demetrios. This is a great example of how a Roman period Fayum style portrait was actually woven into the mummy's wrappings. Based on his mummy and his portrait, we assume that Demetrios was a relatively wealthy individual, did you see the traces of gold wreath painted over his hair?
Yeah. Pretty interesting.
I agree! An interesting contrast is the mummy we call the "Anonymous Man" further into the Mummy Chamber. He also lived in the Roman period, but in a very different part of Egypt so he has a very different type of portrait.
Is the mummification process well documented?
There is some documentation of the process. Egyptologists have also done a number of experiments in recent years on the process to figure out how the ancient Egyptians did it.
The ancient Greek historian Herodotus described three ways of mummifying bodies in his writings. He had traveled to Egypt in the 5th century BCE.
The different types of mummification that one could undergo after death depended on the cultural ideas at the time, such as our later period examples with Greco-Roman mummy portraits, and the amount of money one had.
I had never seen this. How come museums rarely exhibit the mummies themselves?
Some museums simply don't have them in their collections. Our Egyptian collection is very old, many objects on view came to the United States in the nineteenth century. Our curator believes that there is artistic value in the wrapped mummies we have on display, which is why they're presented as such.
My son wants to know what kind of cloth the mummies were wrapped in?
The mummies are wrapped in linen. You can see the outer linen wrappings of Demetrios and our Anonymous Man. Hor's mummy is encased in cartonnage which is made from linen and plaster.
Are there any bones in the mummies in the Mummy Chamber?
Yes, in fact the bones are largely what survives of the body. The mummies will often still have skin because of the preservation process (if the mummification was originally well done).
Is this Fayum portrait original to the mummy?
Yes! This is how Fayum portraits were wrapped into mummies. You can see in this example that depictions of Egyptian gods also painted onto the wrappings illustrating the multicultural nature of the time period.
Are Fayum portraits considered Roman culture or Egyptian culture since it was created to honor Egypt traditions?
That's a complicated question. All of the Fayum portraits were created in Egypt for mummies, so they are Egyptian in that sense. Egypt was, however, a province of the Roman Empire at the time.
Scholars might refer to them as Romano-Egyptian or Egypto-Roman, meaning they come from both cultures. These types of portraits would not exist if Egyptian, Greek, and Roman cultures hadn't all blended together. Another interesting factor is: many people people who had these types of portraits had ethnically Greek names, like Demetrios.
Who is depicted in this painting?
That is a portrait of Demetrios, the person whose remains reside in this mummy. This mummy was made in the Roman period in Egypt. You can definitely see the influence of the period in that the face of the man is rendered in the Roman style of encaustic portraiture.
Why is it red?
In ancient Egypt, red was associated with the sun god and was also used for the color of men's skin, especially as an indicator of gender in depictions of the afterlife..
Whose mummy is this?
That mummy's name is Demetrios and he lived when the Romans ruled Egypt. He was still mummified like an Egyptian and his mummy is decorated with Egyptian gods, but you can see in his portrait that he is wearing Roman style clothes. The type of portrait on his mummy is also something that was only done during the Roman Period in certain areas. It's called a Fayum portrait.
Was he half Roman?
I'm not sure what his ethnic background was, but he was living in a very multi-cultural time. He wore Roman clothes, was mummified like an Egyptian, but had a Greek name. There are many mummies that fit these same traits too.
Tell me more!
This is one of three mummies on view, his name was Demetirios. You can find his name written in Greek letters in gold paint around the middle of the mummy. It also says 59 in Greek numbers which suggest he lived to be 59; CT scans of the mummy support this age. This mummy is a great example of the cultural melding that happened in Egypt in the Roman period. He was mummified like an Egyptian and had Egyptian gods painted on his wrappings. He has a Greek name and he has a Greco-Roman portrait complete with a golden laurel.
We are very confused by this. Is he Egyptian? Why does he have a Roman face?
This mummy belongs to a man named Demetrios, who lived at a time when the Romans ruled Egypt. He was mummified like an Egyptian but you are absolutely right that his portrait shows him wearing Roman style clothing.
This type of naturalistic portrait is painted with wax and was only done during the Roman period. It's called a Fayum portrait.
What do we know about Demetrios other than he was Greek?
We know that he believed in the Egyptian gods, even if he was Greek ethnically. There are even Egyptian gods included on his mummy!
Agreed! We have other Fayum portraits, from mummies of the Roman period, in our Egyptian galleries, though Demetrios is the only mummy on display buried in this style.
Why was a Greek man mummified with Egyptian divinities painted on the linen so long after the end of the Egyptian empire?
The core concept here is that Egypt was a real melting pot of culture and that only increased in the Ptolemaic and Roman eras.
Demetrios does indeed have a Greek name and may well have been on Greek descent, but he lived in Egypt and we assume that he believed in the Egyptian gods because they appear on him mummy. Also, mummification like this was a distinctly Egyptian practice.
There are about 900 known portraits of this type. They are known as Fayum portraits after the region of Egypt where many of them have been found. Stylistically, they do belong to the Greco-Roman painting tradition, but there were wrapped into mummies in Egypt.
They are actually quite special because, outside of the Fayum portraits, very little painting survives from the Greco-Roman world simply because of climate.
So those Fayum portraits were the product of a mixing of Greco-Roman and Egyptian cultures, I guess combining Greco-Roman painting with Egyptian intents of use?
That's exactly what happened!
There is other evidence of mixing of styles in these very late periods of ancient Egypt. Especially during the Ptolemaic dynasty, you may notice that images of human bodies are a bit softer and that women are shown with much larger breasts than in earlier times.
How common is that style of portrait-painting for that time? To me it looks like a Renaissance style, but the piece was created about 1300 years before the Renaissance. Was it styles like this that influenced Renaissance painters?
I am not sure if Renaissance painters would have been aware of Fayum portraits specifically, but it is in fact that same Greco-Roman painting tradition that they were striving to return to.
Fayum portraits are actually quite special because, outside of the Egypt, very little painting survives from the Greco-Roman world simply because of climate.
What are the ethical considerations of displaying real human remains?
Great question! Scholars do try to be as respectful as possible of human remains. Especially with advancements in imaging technology, coffins are not opened. Rather, they are CT scanned to gather more information. All of the mummies that you see here are displayed for the artistry of their mummification.
Why is there a Roman-looking face on this mummy? Is it just because he lived in the Roman period?
This was made during the Roman period, when Egypt was a melting pot of cultures. Portraits like this are known a Fayum portraits after the area in which they were first found. They were included in some mummies of apparently wealthy individuals in Roman period Egypt.
This man's name was Demetrios, which is Greek in origin. As you can see in the portrait, he wore Roman clothing in accordance with the time that he lived.
The decoration on the mummy wrappings indicates that he believed in the Egyptian gods as the mummification already suggests.
Who is Demetrios?
Demetrios is a man who lived during the Roman Period in Egypt, with a portrait in the Fayum style! You can see in his decoration the way his burial incorporated Greek and Egyptian burial traditions, like the Greek style encaustic portrait with the Egyptian-style mummification.
On his wrappings you can see painted decoration including, at his week, the U-shaped wesekh-collar design and, further up, greek letters spelling out his name and age at death.
Did they paint the face on? If so, how did they make the paint?
The face is painted on a wooden panel that was then tucked into the mummy. For this portrait (and many like it) the paint is encaustic.
Encaustic is a beeswax based paint. The wax is bleached through a boiling process and then mixed with mineral pigments and other substances.
It really is! Mummy portraits that looks like this are known as Fayum portraits after the region in Egypt where they were first found. Demetrios' is one of five we currently have on view.
How were the mummies from the mummy chamber acquired?
The mummy of Demetrios was excavated by the famous archaeologist W. M. Flinders Petrie in 1911 and given to the Brooklyn Museum by his funders. At the time, archaeologists were allowed to remove a portion of their finds from Egypt to go to their home institutions.
The Cartonnage and Mummy, sometimes referred to as the Anonymous Man, was excavated by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1928-29 under the same law and was in their collection until we acquired him from them in the 1952.
The mummy of Gautseshenu was purchased in Egypt in 1934.
Why was the mummy removed from his coffin?
This man, named Demetrios, actually never had one. Later in Egyptian history, many mummies were buried without coffins.
The mummy of Demetrios came from a time when the Romans ruled Egypt. This type of naturalistic portrait is called a "Fayum Portrait". It is a perfect example of the blending of Roman and Egyptian cultures!
Is the painting at the head of this mummy contemporaneous with the death of the person inside or was it added later?
Based on evidence from this and similar mummies scholars believe that this portrait was painted while he was still alive. However, comparing the physical appearance in the portrait and his age at death, 59, it was not long before his death.
We're looking at the mummy of Demetrios and wondering if all of the cloth on the outside of the mummy is original?
It is indeed! The cloth is linen that the mummy was actually wrapped in! If you look closely, you'll see that there are still traces of painted decoration on the outer layer.