Monday, December 29, 2014
A Modern Fayum Portrait
20 x 24
Around the time Cleopatra committed suicide with the asp 100 B.C. to 300 A.D. in the fertile Nile Delta region of Egypt lived a cosmopolitan blend of Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Africans and Europeans. In the practice of the day they built huge necropolis and practiced some of the same spiritual beliefs and used similar funerary practices of the Egyptians. Evidence shows preparing for the afterlife was a huge industry with embalmers, craftsmen, stone masons, mummy wrappers and artisans.
Grave robbers were the first to find the mysterious Fayum portraits thousands were carelessly burned and tossed aside because it was the dried mummy the grave robbers wanted for poultices and potions. Later early archeologists discovered the huge cemetery complexes and with a little more care and skill saved some of these portraits (estimated only about 1,000 in existence today). Some of these portraits were simple and crude and others were rendered with such skill it would have been painted by Leonardo or another such modern day master.
These portraits over 2,000 years old give us a window in which we can look upon the face of an ancient ancestor. The eyes were usually exaggerated to emphasize the spiritual and as a window to the soul. These paints are made more alive because they were rendered in beeswax and attached a human person. Some were painted while the person was still alive and kept in the home in a simple Oxford frame (like this one) until the persons death. In some cases it was a practice to keep the embalmed loved one around for years afterward and dance them out for festivities when later generations didn't care about Uncle Flavius they tossed him carelessly into a grave with others like him. The artists whose stock and trade was to paint these never signed their name because it was not about the art or the artist it's about the afterworld, the artist hand meticulously tried to depict the likeness and nature of the departed loved one. I assume also they did not expect them to be dug up someday and placed in hermetically sealed Plexiglas boxes so we could come to museums and stare back at these humans that lived in the time that Jesus walked the earth and performed miracles.