Theodor Graf, Austrian, Austrian, 1840 - 1903 (Vienna, Austria)
Otto Benesch, 1896 - 1964 (Vienna, Austria)
by 1979 - 1981
Antiken Heinz Herzer (Munich, Germany), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1981.
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Mummy Portrait of a Young Woman
Egypt (Place Created)
about A.D. 170–200
Tempera on wood
34.9 × 21.3 cm (13 3/4 × 8 3/8 in.)
A Romano-Egyptian funerary portrait of a woman painted in tempera (pigments suspended in animal glue) on a native Egyptian sycomore fig panel. A gray under layer is visible at the edges and bottom of the panel. The features, dominated by large heavy-lidded eyes, are composed with a range of finely applied linear brushstrokes varying in thickness from the eyebrows to the eyelashes to a variety of highlights on the cheeks, nose and chin. The accomplished painting of the head and neck is in strong contrast to the blocky impressionistic swaths of pink (madder) for her tunic and thick black (indigo) stripes for the clavi (woven stripes) traditionally associated with Roman citizenship. A pink or lavender tunic often appears as a major component of the costume of female funerary portraits and should generally be interpreted as a reference to the expensive purple hues of elite tunics worn with which these women wished to be eternally associated. Certain dyes, such as the madder used here, can run more pink than purple, and the shocking pink hue of this pigment is unusually bright. The woman’s jewelry consists of a plaited gold chain with a pendant and a pair of suspended pearl earrings, each consisting of two pearls, one at the fastening, the other hanging from it on a simple gold drop. Pearls were quite rare in Egypt as they were only imported from Persia, thus the prominent size and positioning of the gems is a significant indicator of wealth. Her black hair is drawn into a bun at the back in a style popular in the Antonine period (AD 96 – 192), helping to date the panel; a head of curls is suggested by quickly executed curved strokes lining the hairline and the outer contours of the head.
The Carbon-14 dates of 38 BC – AD 66 are early for this panel, which is historically and stylistically dated at AD 170-200. The disparity between dates may indicate workshop reuse of a previously cut wooden panel, in this case from a solid piece of wood (that is, not composed from separate lengths which was often the case). The recycling of rare and costly materials is not uncommon in Roman Egypt, where wood was highly valued.
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