Today I looked at a beautiful volume of ancient Egyptian Fayum portraits. They are mostly done in encaustic (colored wax) and some in tempera. The purpose of these portraits was to capture the image of a recently deceased person, at the height of their health and vigor. The corpse was mummified, wrapped up tightly, and the portrait attached
over the face area. The mummy was then kept in the house for generations, until eventually, those who were living no longer remembered who it was. The “forgotten” mummies were then taken to a mass grave and disposed of.
I find these portraits more interesting and remarkable than the excavation of the tombs of Pharoahs. These were wealthy yet ordinary citizens of ancient Egypt. Their faces seemed so alive, so individual that they were almost ready to speak. Hundreds of the portraits have been found, each one unique and revealing of the appearance and personality of someone from ages ago. This woman in the picture below died in 37 A.D. Her name was Eirene.