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Portrait of a woman, Egypt, probably from Philadelphia (near er-Rubayat), second half 2nd century CE.  Support: native Egyptian sycamore fig (Ficus sycomorus), willow wood (Salix species); binder: animal glue; pigments: bassanite, anhydrite, alunite, red and yellow ochres, bone black, carbon black, madder lake, red lead.  Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M.  Sackler Museum, Gift of Mrs.  John D.  Rockefeller, Jr., 1939.111.

“Mummy Portraits” of Roman Egypt: Status, Ethnicity, and Magic Add to Calendar Email Share on Facebook Share on Twitter


In ancient Egypt, one of the final steps in the mummification process was to equip the body with a permanent face covering that helped protect the head and also ritually transform the deceased into a god. The earliest examples of these were stylized masks, later replaced by more realistically rendered painted portraits. Using evidence from the archaeological record and the Book of the Dead—a series of spells meant to guide the dead as they sought eternal life—art professor Lorelei Corcoran will discuss the production and function of the “mummy portraits” that were popular throughout Egypt in the Roman period. She’ll also explore what these images reveal about the religious beliefs and multilayered ethnicities of their subjects.

This hybrid event will be held in person and online. The event will be held at the Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street, in Cambridge. Free parking is available in the 52 Oxford Street Garage.

This event is free, but advance registration required for either virtual or in-person attendance. A Zoom link will be shared upon registration for those opting to join virtually.

Presented by the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East and the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture in collaboration with the Harvard Art Museums. The related Harvard Art Museums exhibition, Funerary Portraits from Roman Egypt: Facing Forward, is on view through December 30, 2022.

Geological Lecture Hall
24 Oxford Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts