More on Mummy Portraits…


Certain technical features immediately suggest that they are not ancient work. The paint (apparently a matte tempera)has been applied directly to the surface of the thin panels. In antiquity, portrait panels were treated to a coat of gesso in preparation for the application of paint (either tempera or encaustic). On these modern panels one can see the grain of the wood through the paint because the wood is young and its grain has not mellowed with age…Our modern panels are rather long compared to the average length of an ancient Fayoum portrait panel.

In terms of style, the modern painter has not captured the depth and richness of of planes which characterize the ancient paintings -- even poorly preserved ones…but since they were all done by the same hand, it is useful nevertheless, to note the similarities which can reveal a shared identity of authorship -- be it ancient or modern.

[Root, Margaret Cool. 1979. Faces of Immortality: Egyptian Mummy Masks, Painted Portraits, and Canopic Jars in the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. Ann Arbor: Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan.]

A recent development of scholarship has allowed researchers at the Speed Museum in Louisville, Kentucky to attribute a mummy portrait panel in their collection to the hand of the forger of these three panels. For additional mummy portraits, see World Art Treasures: Roman Portraits from Egypt.


The Art of the Fake: Egyptian Forgeries from the Kelsey Museum of Archeology

Exhibit Curators: Robin Meador-Woodruff, Terry Wilfong and Janet Richards
Exhibit Designer: Anne Noakes