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Fragmented portrait of a man with gilded hair decoration.

This painted bust portrait is reassembled from fragmented vertical strips. It shows a man rendered realistically on a partially gilded background. He has brown short hair, large brown eyes, a slightly sloping nose, dark stubble, and small but full lips. In his hair is gilded decoration in the form of eight-pointed star bursts. Resting diagonally across a white garment on his chest from proper right to left is a red band with golden studs. The central painting fragments have the most complete application of paint, and the ones further out towards the end of the board have sketchier areas.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Composite portrait of a man
Work Type
Early 2nd century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Fayum (Egypt)
Roman Imperial period, Middle
Persistent Link


Level 3, Room 3740, Ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Art, Ancient Egypt: Art for Eternity
View this object's location on our interactive map

Physical Descriptions

Support: Imported European lime wood (Tilia europaea) Binder: Beeswax Pigments: Lead white, chalk, gypsum, carbon black, red and yellow ochres, natrojarosite Egyptian blue, gold
29.3 x 13.2 cm (11 9/16 x 5 3/16 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
Mr. Denman W. Ross, gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1924.

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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Mummy portrait of a bearded man wearing a white tunic. His face is highly detailed, with large brown eyes and a light beard with moustache. His hair is dark and holds the remains of a gold diadem. His tunic is white, with a navy blue vertical stripe over his right shoulder. There is a red band with gold studs running from behind the right side of his neck across the front of his chest.

The panel is broken into eighteen pieces, some of which do not appear to be original. It has been reassembled, but many of the pieces do not belong. The left side of his head does not align with his face, there are remnants of gold on a panel by his right ear that does not fit in, and both shoulders of his tunic are missing.

Almost all mummy portraits from the Roman period came from Northern Egypt, in an area called the Fayum. Mummy portraits are a unique representation of the human form. This medium developed in Egypt and had its roots in Egyptian burial practices. Egypt was taken over by the Romans in 30 BCE, after Octavian (later Augustus) defeated Marc Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE. Roman Egypt became a mixture of imported customs and deep-seated, Egyptian tradition. Mummy portraits were most popular in the 1st to 3rd centuries CE.

Mummy portraits were probably painted while the deceased was still alive. There is some debate as to whether they are idealized or painted in the exact likeness of the person. They are usually painted on wooden panels or on linen, most often utilizing the encaustic technique. Encaustic painting uses heated wax with pigment added to create colors.

The portrait was attached to the coffin or mummy in the place where the face would be. They give us a glimpse into upper-class life in Roman Egypt, since only a wealthy person could afford to commission their painting. In addition, most females (and some males) are depicted wearing elaborate jewelry, often made of gold and featuring many precious stones. Some female mummy portraits show the deceased wearing up to seven necklaces.

[Jessica Pesce, 8/2010]

Publication History

  • Four Fayum Portraits in the Fogg Art Museum, Bulletin of the Fogg Art Museum (1924), II.1

Exhibition History

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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