The J. Paul Getty Museum

Panel with Painted Image of Serapis

Object Details


Panel with Painted Image of Serapis






Egypt (Place Created)


A.D. 100–200


Tempera on wood

Object Number:



39.1 × 19.1 × 1.6 cm (15 3/8 × 7 1/2 × 5/8 in.)

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Object Description

Depicted as a mature bearded man, the god Serapis is similar in appearance to Graeco-Roman gods like Zeus or Jupiter, with whom he shares the role of king of the gods. The stylized modius or grain measure on his head emphasizes his role as a fertility deity. The Greek god Hades also wore this symbol, linking Serapis with the role of god of the Underworld.

Serapis was a creation of the Ptolemies, the Greek rulers of Egypt from 323 to 30 B.C. They needed a deity to help unify the mixed population of native Egyptians and Greek colonists. Serapis blended aspects of major Greek and Egyptian gods, making him acceptable to everyone. For Egyptians, he was the god Osiris under another name. Most importantly for the Greeks, the new god had human form. The Greeks as well as the Romans found the Egyptian worship of deities in animal form disturbing. When Octavian, the future Roman emperor Augustus, visited Egypt, he curtly refused to pay his respects to the bull-god Apis, from whom Serapis also derived, saying that he was "accustomed to worship gods, not cattle."

by 1973 - 1974

Nicolas Koutoulakis, 1910 - 1996 (Geneva, Switzerland), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1974.

Fayum Portraits: Painted Portraits from Roman Egypt (March 24, 1981 to 1997)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), March 24, 1981 to December 1, 1997
Ancient Faces: Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt (March 13, 1997 to April 30, 1998)
  • The British Museum (London), March 13 to July 20, 1997
  • Palazzo Ruspoli (Rome), October 22, 1997 to April 30, 1998
Aurea Roma: Dalla citta pagana alla citta cristiana (December 21, 2000 to April 20, 2001)
  • Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Comune di Roma (Rome), December 21, 2000 to April 20, 2001

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Parlasca, Klaus. Ritratti di Mummie. Repertorio d'arte dell'Egitto greco-romano. 2 ser. Vol II. (Roma : "L'Erma" di Bretschneider, 1977), p. 69, no. 405; pl. 100.1-3.

Berger, J.-E. L'oeil et l'eternite. Portraits romains d'Egypte. Paudex, Switzerland: 1977, pp. 117, ill., 215.

Fredericksen, Burton B., Jiří Frel, and Gillian Wilson. Guidebook: The J. Paul Getty Museum. 4th ed. Sandra Morgan, ed. (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1978), p. 65.

Weitzmann, Kurt. The icon : holy images, sixth to fourteenth century (New York : G. Braziller, 1978), p. 9, pl. 5.

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Walker, Susan, Morris Bierbrier, et al. Fayum. Misteriosi Volti dall'Egitto, exh. cat. (Rome: Fondazione Memmo, October 22, 1997-February 28, 1998), pp. 146-47, no. 107.

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Walker, Susan, ed. Ancient Faces: Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt, exh. cat. (New York: Routledge, 2000), p. 21.

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Quack, Joachim Friedrich. "Serapis als neuer Gefaehrte der Isis: Von der Geburt eines Gottes aus dem Geist eines Stiers." In Imperium der Goetter: Isis, Mithras, Christus..., exh. cat. (Karlsruhe: Badisches Landesmuseum, 2013), p. 164.

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