Were these paintings used to decorate the dead body?
This Mummy board from the the Late Roman period was indeed incorporated into burial practices and mummy wrappings. Known as a Fayum Portrait these represent a maintaining of the Egyptian tradition that representations of the deceased were essential to the afterlife of any individual.
If you want to see what a Fayum portrait looks like in relationship to a wrapped mummy we have the mummy of Demetrios on view in the mummy chamber nearby!
I was fascinated because the title of it stated that it was a boy, but he had very feminine features.
His clothing and hair identify him as male. The abundant flowers in the portrait, which might read as feminine today, were symbolic of rebirth in ancient Egypt, an important concept for a deceased person traveling to the afterlife.
How do you know it's a boy?
I believe that it is because this portrait has the same style and a similar appearance of the child to other portraits of boys from this time. The way in which gender was depicted in art in ancient times can often come across differently today. The flower garland would be seen as a more feminine accessory today, but at the time it was linked with rebirth, making it suitable for a funerary portrait.
Great! Thank you. It's so gorgeous and gender fluid!
It certainly does bring up many conversations
about how we view gender and how markers of gender are very much time and place specific.
All of these have a strong stylistic consistency. Same artist?
Good eye. Not all by the same artist but produced during the same period and in the same region in Egyptian history, the Roman period. They reflect the multicultural nature of the society at the time. These would have been attached onto the faces of human mummies. Around 900 such mummy portraits are known today and they are referred to as "Fayum portraits" Named after the Fayum Oasis south of Cairo where most of them were found.
Do we know for sure different artist? Do we know names of artists or dates?
We do know for sure that they were produced by different artists because they range in date from 95 to 230 CE and were found at different sites.
It's not surprising that they are similar though. Egyptian art through time tends to follow relatively rigid iconographical schemes. These portraits were likely coming out of workshops where many artisans were trained to produce them in very similar styles.
Do you know what this boy is holding?
He holds a cup in his right hand and in his left hand he grasps a garland made of flowers with strings.
The cup that he's holding is actually made of blue glass holding red wine. Wine was a typical offering to deceased ancient Egyptians (often in ceramic vases). During the Roman period that tradition manifested as a cup of wine instead!
Flowers, like the ones in his hair and his hand, had connotations of rebirth since they died and came back to life each year.
Tell me more.
This is a funerary portrait of a boy from Egypt but in a distinctively Greco-Roman style. The purpose was to be incorporated into the deceased's mummy.
The abundant flowers in the portrait, were symbolic of rebirth in ancient Egypt, an important concept for a deceased person traveling to the afterlife. The cup of wine in his right hand is symbolic of offerings he hoped to receive for the afterlife.