Face to face with Mummy Portraits

Both the Petrie and the Great North Museum have examples of ancient mummy portraits. The woman on the left is from the Petrie collection in London and the man on the right is in the Great North Museum in Newcastle.

Mummy portraits - Copy (500x383)

These portraits are a fascinating example of the blending of ancient cultures in Egypt under the Roman empire. They were made for a community who probably regarded themselves as descendants of Greek settlers. From the 1st to the 3rd centuries AD they buried their dead with highly realistic portraits painted on wood of people wearing Greek or Roman clothing and jewellery, but which were set into mummy bandages or coffins that followed age-old Egyptian burial traditions.

The portraits must have been painted specifically to commemorate individuals who had died. But did they represent them as they really were, or as they wanted to be remembered? The faces appeal to our modern sense of photorealism, but were they originally intended more to evoke memories of class, gender, profession, or cultural background? If you come to our free workshops on 18 or 25 April in London or on 9 or 10 May in Newcastle, you can come face to face with mummy portraits and explore what memories they hold.

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