Ancient Faces: Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt (A catalogue of Roman portraits in the British Museum)

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by Susan Walker

The painted panel and shroud portraits of Roman Egypt constitute the only corpus of coloured images of individuals to survive from classical antiquity. Many are of outstanding artistic quality, and as a whole they reflect a range of techniques and styles. The images combine both the subject's belief in the traditional Egyptian cults, which offered them a firm prospect of life after death, and the Roman manner, of reflecting the subject's status in life. The portraits reveal the adoption of Roman fashions in dress and personal adornment by persons remote from the centre of the empire, but likely to have been actively engaged in its local administration. Many of the best known portraits come from the Fayum, but others in various media are known from sites in the Nile Valley and along the Mediterranean coast. This catalogue, published to coincide with an exhibition at the British Museum, presents a wide range of these portraits, showing the Roman influence coexisting with traditional Egyptian ways of commemorating the dead.