Triptych Panel with a Painted Image of Isis
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Romano-Egyptian, Egypt, about A.D. 100
Tempera on wood
15 3/4 x 7 1/2 x 1/2 in.

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Her elaborate headdress and the characteristic "Isis knot" in her mantle identify the goddess Isis. The headdress combines floral elements with a central uraeus, all covered by a transparent veil. The goddess carries a staff on one shoulder and a wreath of pink flowers, like those seen on portraits of her worshippers, draped over the other.

In traditional Egyptian religion, Isis was the wife and sister of the chief god Osiris. The evil god Seth murdered Osiris and scattered parts of his dismembered body throughout Egypt. The bereft Isis found all the parts but one, reassembled and wrapped them in linen and revived Osiris enough that she conceived a child, Horus, by him.

Although their names changed, this holy family remained important in Ptolemaic and Roman times. Aspects of the traditional gods Osiris and Horus were incorporated into the new Hellenized deities Serapis and Harpocrates, who joined Isis in a holy triad. By Hellenistic times, the worship of Isis had developed into a mystery religion that spread throughout the Mediterranean because it promised a happy, carefree afterlife to its initiates.