Object biography #5: A double-sided painted mummy portrait (Acc. No. 5381)

We continue our countdown to the closure of our Ancient Worlds galleries with a post from Dr Campbell Price, Curator of Egypt and Sudan, on the topic of mummy portraits

Egypt at the Manchester Museum

Acc. no. 5381 © Paul Cliff Acc. no. 5381 © Paul Cliff

This delicate wooden panel (41 x 32.5 cm) is one of 13 painted mummy portraits in the Manchester Museum. Such panel portraits were produced during the Roman Period (c. 55-220 AD) and are amongst the most evocative images to have come from Egypt. Most were painted using an encaustic method, in which pigment is mixed with hot wax and applied directly onto the surface of thin wooden panels. The panels were attached over the head of the mummy, held in place with bandages around each edge. Whether they were painted during life, and if they were displayed prior to being attached to the mummy, has caused much debate.

The practice of creating portraits developed out of the Pharaonic tradition of covering the head of the mummy with an idealised image of the deceased. Portrait painting had its roots in Roman traditions, and the portrait…

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