The J. Paul Getty Museum

Mummy Portrait of a Youth

Object Details


Mummy Portrait of a Youth






Egypt (Place Created)


A.D. 150–200


Encaustic on linden wood

Object Number:



20.3 × 13 cm (8 × 5 1/8 in.)

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Object Description

A high infant mortality rate in Roman Egypt encouraged confidence in magical spells to ward off illness and injury. For this reason the boy wears a small round container for amulets on a plain black necklace, possibly made from leather. His head has been almost completely shaved to feature a single lock at the back (with golden clip) and two small tufts on his brow. This pattern is in accordance with the practices of devotees of the goddess Isis, whose son the god-child Horus was the model for this hair treatment.

Though a child, he wears a customary white adult funerary tunic with a narrow purple clavus (woven strip) on his proper right and a mantle (pallium) draped over his proper left shoulder. The encaustic is painted directly on the wooden panel. Brush marks are visible in the wax and a pointed tool was used to create the eyelashes and black outline of the eyelid. Resin staining is visible at the edges of the portrait and on its reverse, indicating it was inserted into mummy wrappings, despite the panels smaller than life-size dimensions and square shape. Portraits of children are rare amongst funerary panels and, though apparently quickly finished, the painter’s ability to maintain a high painterly quality throughout is evident.

by 1977 - 1978

Galerie Nefer (Zurich, Switzerland), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1978.

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
Ancient Faces: Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt (February 9 to May 7, 2000)
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), February 9 to May 7, 2000

Galerie Nefer advertisement. Weltkunst 47, no. 21 (November 1977), p. 2204, cover ill.

Parlasca, Klaus. Ritratti di Mummie. Repertorio d'arte dell'Egitto greco-romano (A. Adriani, ed). 2 ser. Vol. III. (Roma : "L'Erma" di Bretschneider, 1980), p. 67, no. 674; color pl. F.

Thompson, David L. Mummy Portraits in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1982), pp. 40-41, no. 5, ill.

Lyttelton, Margaret. The Romans: Their Gods and Their Beliefs. (London: Orbis Publishing Limited, 1984), pp. 104-5, ill.

Parlasca, K., J.-E. Berger, and R. Pintaudi. El-Fayyum (Milan: Ricci, 1985), p. 120, ill. p. 121.

Richmond, Robin, The Story in a Picture. Children in Art, 1992, p. 48, caption, ill. p. 39.

Bianchi, Robert S. "The Mummy as Medium," Archaeology. (November/December, 1995), pp. 60-66, p. 63.

Doxiadis, Euphrosyne. The Mysterious Fayum Portraits: Faces from Ancient Egypt (London: Thames and Hudson, 1995), pp. 37, 224, no. 7.

Borg, Barbara. Mumienporträts: Chronologie und kultureller Kontext (Mainz: Ph. von Zabern, 1996), pp. 107, 114, 119; pl. 19, 2.

Walker, Susan, Morris Bierbrier, et al. Fayum. Misteriosi Volti dall'Egitto, exh. cat. (Rome: Fondazione Memmo, October 22, 1997-February 28, 1998), p. 139, no. 103.

Borg, Barbara. "Der zierlichste Anblick der Welt," Aegyptische Portraetmumien. Mainz: 1998, pp. 68-69; fig. 81.

Walker, Susan, ed. Ancient Faces: Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt, exh. cat. (New York: Routledge, 2000), no. 61.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Antiquities Collection (Los Angeles: 2002), p. 223.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Antiquities Collection. Rev. ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2010), p. 229.

Nenna, M.-D., "Remarques sur le mobilier des tombes d'enfants dans l'Égypte gréco-romaine: mobilier associé et mobilier représenté." L'Enfant et la Mort dans L'Antiquité III: Le Matériel associé aux tombes d'Enfants, edited by A, Hermary and C. Dubois. Arles: Éditions Errance, 2012, 285, fig. 20; 286, 288.

Psychological Perspectives 59, no. 1 (2016), Back cover ill.