Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Fayum Portraits

Fayum Mummy Portrait (source)
I am obsessed with pictures of faces. I love portraits. Self portraits taken with bad phone cameras in mirrors (see my next post on selfies). Portraits painted by classical Western master painters. Cheezy head shots. I love them all. 

There is something about representations of the human face as imagined by humans. I don't care if the result is photo realistic or the squiggly chaos of a child's crayon drawing. Faces mesmerize me. 

Take the Coptic era Fayum Mummy Portraits from ancient Egypt. These busts of long dead women, children, and men painted on wood boards to adorn the mummies of upper caste members of society are distractingly beautiful. While they have elements of realism - each portrait suggests the character of the person depicted - they share a set of conventions. The length of the neck, the roundness of the eyes the shape of the face are similar across the portraits and we can assume that these people didn't all share these characteristics.

 And yet, it is because they share these details that somehow these portraits seem more real to me, suggest that those ancient people were really people with lives and hopes and dreams before they were laid to rest. There is a sense of recognition of kinship, of humanness that these mummy portraits bring to mind for me. 

If you haven't seen the wide variety of these portraits - Google Fayum Mummy Portait and be amazed. 

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