The Real Pearl Co

Fayum Mummy Portraits

Fayum mummy portraits…beautiful works of art and invaluable sources of jewellery design.

While painted mummy masks date back to Pharaonic times, the Fayum mummy portraits were an innovation dating to the time of Roman rule in Egypt. The portraits date from the late 1st century BC to about the mid 3rd century AD. They were found across Egypt but mostly in the Al Fayum oasis which is located some 60 miles southwest of Cairo, between the Western Desert and the Nile.

During Pharaonic, Greek and Roman times, many people were attracted to this oasis and its fertile land and it became one of Egypt’s most productive agricultural regions, leading to a multicultural population of Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.

Although cremation and burial were common in the wider Greco-Roman world, settlers in Al Fayum adopted Egyptian mummification rituals but rather than copy the traditional highly stylised Egyptian funerary masks, the deceased were now depicted naturalistically with a life-like image, painted on wood, thus providing us with a window into a remarkable society of peoples of mixed origins.

About 900 Fayum portraits have been found since the 17th century, most of which were of the wealthy or professional members of society and although a few portraits have inscriptions indicating the name and profession of the deceased, most mummies remain unidentified.

These portraits show their subjects looking their best, so the clothing, hairstyles and accessories reflect the fashion of the time. They show people dressed in the Roman style and women are portrayed wearing splendid clothes and jewellery: gold necklaces and earrings inlaid with Emeralds, Garnets, Agates, Lapis and Amethysts. Some are also depicted wearing White pearl necklaces and many have pearl earrings.

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