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Bust portait of a woman with golden earrings.

The wooden board of this painting follows the general silhouette of the subject, but with a more geometric shape. She has olive-toned skin, dark brown hair, and is wearing a purple stola with vertical green bands over a white undergarment. Her hair is pulled up and back, and row of curls frames her hairline. In each lobe she wears an earring that begins as a golden hoop, transitions into a golden diamond shape with an inset pink stone and terminates in a pearl. She has brown, rounded eyes with heavy lids beneath large eyebrows, a long nose, and small lips.

Gallery Text

This portrait can be attributed to the city of Antinoopolis on the Nile because of its characteristic shape, but its subject clearly has more cosmopolitan pretensions: similar hairstyles, clothing, and jewelry can be found in elite portraiture across the Roman Mediterranean.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Portrait of a woman
Work Type
c. 130-150 CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Antinoopolis (Egypt)
Roman Imperial period, Middle
Persistent Link


Level 3, Room 3740, Ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Art, Ancient Egypt: Art for Eternity
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Physical Descriptions

Binder: Beeswax Pigments: Lead white, red and yellow ochres, carbon black, indigo, madder lake, green earth (celadonite), natrojarosite Support: Native Egyptian sycomore fig (Ficus sycomorus)
35.3 × 22.5 × 2 cm (13 7/8 × 8 7/8 × 13/16 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
Denman Waldo Ross, Cambridge, MA, (by 1923), gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1923.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Dr. Denman W. Ross
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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This highly naturalistic mummy portrait depicts a young woman with deep brown eyes, arched brows, and a long pointed nose. Her dark hair is pulled back with only a row of small curls framing her forehead. Her jewelry is simple: small gold double-hooped earrings, each with a pendant pearl. She wears a deep purple tunic with green shoulder bands and maroon clasps all over a white undergarment, visible only at the neckline.

Wooden panel portraits such as this would have been set into mummy wrappings, covering the face of the deceased. The images may or may not have been painted before the sitter's death and were often idealized representations. The shape of this portrait, which is trimmed to follow the contour of the head and shoulders, is consistent with panels that come from Antinoopolis, a city founded by the Emperor Hadrian [1].

1. For similar panel shape and hairstyle see Louvre inv. P 217. (Zaloscer, fig. 25).

Publication History

  • Four Fayum Portraits in the Fogg Art Museum, Bulletin of the Fogg Art Museum (1924), II.1
  • George M. A. Hanfmann, Roman Art: A Modern Survey of the Art of Imperial Rome, New York Graphi Society (Greenwich CT, New York and London, 1964), pg. 306, pl. 46
  • David Thompson, Mummy Portraits in the J. Paul Getty Museum, J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu, CA, 1982), p. 5, fig. 6
  • Rosario Pintaudi, El-Fayyum, F.M. Ricci (Milan, Italy, 1985), pg 95
  • Kristin A. Mortimer and William G. Klingelhofer, Harvard University Art Museums: A Guide to the Collections, Harvard University Art Museums and Abbeville Press (Cambridge and New York, 1986), p. 116, no. 130, ill.
  • Marvin Perry, Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics & Society, Houghton Mifflin Company (Boston, MA, 1989), p. 135, ill.
  • Euphrosyne Doxiadis, The Mysterious Fayum Portraits: Faces from Middle Egypt, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (New York, NY, 1995), p.113, fig 85
  • James Cuno, Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Ivan Gaskell, and William W. Robinson, Harvard's Art Museums: 100 Years of Collecting, ed. James Cuno, Harvard University Art Museums and Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (Cambridge, MA, 1996), p. 116-117, ill.
  • Masterpieces of world art : Fogg Art Museum, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Busch-Reisinger Museum, 1997
  • Rui Nakamura, "The Technique and Use of Encaustic in Ancient Roman Paintings : An Examination of One Example in the Fogg Museum with Reference to Pliny's Natural History" (2003), p. 409 - 418 (figs. 1a, 1b)
  • Ioli Kalavrezou, Byzantine Women and Their World, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2003), p. 240, no. 133, fig. 133.
  • Rui Nakamura, The Technique and Expression of Encaustic in Ancient Portrait Paintings: An Examination of One Example in the Fogg Museum with Reference to Pliny's Natural History, Kashima Bijutsu Kenkyu, 20, 409-418, 2003, p. 418, ill.
  • Thorsten Opper, Hadrian: Empire and Conflict, exh. cat., British Museum Press (London, 2008), fig. 182
  • Stephan Wolohojian, ed., Harvard Art Museum/Handbook (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2008)

Exhibition History

  • Roman Gallery Installation (long-term), Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/16/1999 - 01/20/2008
  • Byzantine Women and Their World, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 10/25/2002 - 04/28/2003
  • Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/22/2007 - 01/20/2008
  • Roman Emperor Hadrian, British Museum, London, 07/24/2008 - 10/26/2008
  • Ancient to Modern, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2012 - 06/01/2013
  • 32Q: 3740 Egyptian, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 06/01/2022; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/28/2024 - 01/01/2050
  • 32Q: 3620 University Study Gallery, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/28/2023 - 05/07/2023
  • Funerary Portraits from Roman Egypt: Facing Forward, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/27/2022 - 12/30/2022

Subjects and Contexts

  • Collection Highlights
  • Google Art Project

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Verification Level

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at