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Portrait of a gray-haired man on a wooden board.

This painting shows the bust of a man on a long, hexagonal wooden board. Much of the painted area is in the top three-fourths of the board, with the lowest section blank. The subject of this painting is an older man with the short-cropped gray hair, mustache, and beard. He has almond-shaped, brown eyes, a long, thin nose, and wide lips, all rendered with a relaxed expression. Bunched behind his neck is a length of white cloth from the toga he is wearing. On either side of the neck hole in this garment is a vertical purple border stripe.

Gallery Text

The irregular shaping of the wooden board here helps us imagine the original placement of this portrait over the mummy’s face, affixed with complicated wrappings. The portrait is painted using the encaustic technique, in which pigment is mixed with beeswax, allowing the artist to achieve complex gradations of light and shade and sometimes a luminescence that has been compared to the sheen of oil painting. The man’s hair and beard are trimmed short in the fashion of the mid-third century.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Portrait of a man
Work Type
Mid-3rd century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Fayum (Egypt)
Roman Imperial period, Late
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Encaustic on imported European lime wood (Tilia europaea).
46 × 20.2 × 2 cm (18 1/8 × 7 15/16 × 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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Publication History

  • Four Fayum Portraits in the Fogg Art Museum, Bulletin of the Fogg Art Museum (1924), II.1
  • Euphrosyne Doxiadis, The Mysterious Fayum Portraits: Faces from Middle Egypt, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (New York, NY, 1995)

Exhibition History

  • Roman Gallery Installation (long-term), Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/16/1999 - 01/20/2008
  • Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/22/2007 - 01/20/2008
  • Re-View: S422 Ancient & Byzantine Art & Numismatics, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 04/12/2008 - 06/18/2011
  • 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
  • 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

Related Works

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