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Portrait of a woman, Egypt, c.  130–150 CE.  Binder: beeswax; pigments: lead white, red and yellow ochres, carbon black, indigo, madder lake, green earth (celadonite), natrojarosite; support: native Egyptian sycamore fig (Ficus sycomorus).  Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M.  Sackler Museum, Gift of Dr.  Denman W.  Ross, 1923.60.

Painting with Beeswax: Funerary Portraits from Roman Egypt


Ancient artists from Roman-period Egypt created portraits on wooden panels to be placed on mummified bodies. The main technique used for these portraits was encaustic (wax) painting. These paintings can now be seen in museum collections around the world. In this presentation and conversation, contemporary encaustic artist Francisco Benitez and conservator of paintings Kate Smith will employ their expertise to bring new understanding to these ancient objects and allow us to appreciate the skills of the painters who made them 2,000 years ago.

Francisco Benitez is a professional artist as well as a student, and teacher, of ancient painting techniques. In workshops, he shares his research on using ancient, and modern, tools to paint with beeswax and to experiment with the Greek four-color palette. Kate Smith—with curatorial and analytical science colleagues—has spent nearly a decade studying the materials and techniques used in the production of the ancient Egyptian funerary portraits in the Harvard Art Museums collections.

This lecture is organized in conjunction with Funerary Portraits from Roman Egypt: Facing Forward, on view through December 30, 2022. Please be advised that this exhibition contains objects that were removed from ancient Egyptian burials.

Francisco Benitez, Encaustic Artist
Kate Smith, Conservator of Paintings and Head of Paintings Lab, Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies

Following the lecture, guests are invited to visit the exhibition on Level 3.

Free admission, but seating is limited and reservations are required. Reservations may be arranged by clicking on the event on this form beginning on Monday, October 24, after 10am.

The lecture will take place in Menschel Hall, Lower Level. Doors will open at 5:30pm.

Limited complimentary parking is available in the Broadway Garage, 7 Felton Street, Cambridge.

Please review our general visitor policies, including details on COVID-related precautions.

Support for the Funerary Portraits exhibition is provided by the Kelekian Fund, the Christopher and Jean Angell Charitable Fund, and the Kornfeld Foundation (through Christopher Angell). Related programming is supported by the M. Victor Leventritt Lecture Series Endowment Fund.

The Harvard Art Museums are committed to accessibility for all visitors. For anyone requiring accessibility accommodations for our programs, please contact us at am_register@harvard.edu at least 48 hours in advance.

Harvard Art Museums
32 Quincy Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts