2010 | 58 | 3-4 | 335-348
Article title

EGYPTIAN SEPULCHRAL PORTRAITS FROM THE 1ST-4TH C. AD (Portret sepulkralny z terenów Egiptu w I-IV w. n.e.)

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The article is concerned with the varied terminology applied in the literature on the so-called Faiyum portraits. It discusses the terms most commonly used in publications, explains their origin and meaning, and finally suggests how they should be applied or what they should be replaced with. In both older and newer literature of the subject we can find several terms referring to Egyptian sepulchral pictures. They are often used interchangeably and inconsistently. The most frequent term is the 'mummy portrait', linking two-dimensional Faiyum paintings with mummies and with funeral rites, which does not seem accurate since the question of their sepulchral function has not yet been settled. The term is also used with reference to three-dimensional gilded and cartonnage masks from a different period. Apart from the term 'mummy portrait' there is a widely used notion of 'Faiyum portraits', which is derived from the Faiyum Oasis, where the first examples of portraits dated to the 1st-4th c. CE were found. Nowadays we know of specimen of such portraits from all over Egypt and from other territories. Another term is the 'coffin portrait', which is clearly wrong, as the portraits in question were never attached to coffins. Some terms applied to Faiyum portraits are connected with the painting technique or the material. For example the term 'encaustic portrait' refers to the technique of painting with wax on an unprimed surface, while the 'tempera portrait' was painted on a primed surface with tempera paints. Those notions, as well as the term 'easel portrait', are certainly overused and applied interchangeably with the term 'mummy portrait', although the works in question were also painted with other media and on varied surfaces. It should be stressed that not all funeral portraits painted on canvas and included in the Faiyum group were directly connected with mummies. In the relevant period in Egyptian funeral rites in addition to shrouds and mummy portraits there was a place for draperies, which decorated the tomb during burial feasts; they showed the deceased person in the company of Anubis and Osiris. In order to clarify the terminology concerning the Egyptian painting of the 1st-4th c. it is necessary to use certain terms consistently in certain contexts. Egyptian painting can be divided into several groups: pictures on everyday items, wall paintings, pictures on canvas and papyrus (including wall draperies, funeral draperies and illuminations of magic texts) and easel paintings. It is the last group that should include propaganda portraits, satirical and genre painting, religious pictures and commemorative images, with a separate category for imagines clipeatae, imagines maiorum and the images of family members in altars, which in various publications have been included in the category of mummy portraits (e.g. in K. Parlaska's catalogue). The meaning of the traditional term 'Faiyum portraits' should be narrowed to two-dimensional portraits painted on wood (panel portraits) and on canvas, including portraits showing only the face of the deceased person, portraits attached to mummies and funeral shrouds. The category should not include draperies. The terms which refer to the origin, authorship or addressees of this type of painting, such as 'Greco-Egyptian portraits' or 'Roman-Egyptian portraits' should be abandoned due to the complexity of the issue. The consistent application of the terms presented will allow scholars to avoid categorizing together artefacts of different function, origin, technique, character and chronology.
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  • Mgr Marta Baran, Zaklad Archeologii Antycznej Instytutu Archeologii Uniwersytetu Mikolaja Kopernika w Toruniu, ul. Szosa Bydgoska 44/48, 87-100 Torun, Poland
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