Mummy portrait of a young woman, 3rd century, Louvre, Paris. The single specimen of Gayet’s mummy portraits from Antinoopolis for which information on its archaeological context is available. 06 and sold to Berlin time knowledge contests for children mathematics 1907.
The portraits date to the Imperial Roman era, from the late 1st century BC or the early 1st century AD onwards. It is not clear when their production ended, but recent research suggests the middle of the 3rd century. The portraits covered the faces of bodies that were mummified for burial. Extant examples indicate that they were mounted into the bands of cloth that were used to wrap the bodies. Almost all have now been detached from the mummies. They usually depict a single person, showing the head, or head and upper chest, viewed frontally. The former are usually of higher quality.
About 900 mummy portraits are known at present. The majority were found in the necropoleis of Faiyum. Due to the hot dry Egyptian climate, the paintings are frequently very well preserved, often retaining their brilliant colours seemingly unfaded by time. The Italian explorer Pietro della Valle, on a visit to Saqqara-Memphis in 1615, was the first European to discover and describe mummy portraits. Although interest in Ancient Egypt steadily increased after that period, further finds of mummy portraits did not become known before the early 19th century. Saqqara as well, or perhaps from Thebes. Once again, a long period elapsed before more mummy portraits came to light.
In 1887, Daniel Marie Fouquet heard of the discovery of numerous portrait mummies in a cave. He set off to inspect them some days later, but arrived too late, as the finders had used the painted plaques for firewood during the three previous cold desert nights. Fouquet acquired the remaining two of what had originally been fifty portraits. Detail of a portrait within its mummy wrappings, Metropolitan Museum of Art, discovered by Flinders Petrie in 1911.