The Fayum, a flourishing metropolitan community in ancient Egypt, consisted of Greeks, Egyptians, Syrians, Libyans, and others. Like many of their contemporaries throughout the Nile Valley, these people embalmed their dead and then painted commemorative portraits of them, usually on wood or linen, to be placed over the mummies. Looking into the well-preserved, startlingly lifelike faces collected in this beautiful volume, one can trace the earliest roots of portraiture as it began in these Greco-Roman Fayum, or mummy, portraits, and continued through the Renaissance to the present. Despite their ancient history, the stylized portraits appear strikingly modern and painterly, with echoes of Modigliani and Matisse. Having experimented with them herself, Euphrosyne Doxiadis describes in detail the painting techniques and materials. Also included are fascinating notes on the clothing, jewelry, and hairstyles of the period.
From Publishers Weekly
Made in the lush Fayum region of Greco-Roman Egypt during the first three centuries A.D., portraits of the embalmed, mummified dead-each painted on a thin wooden panel or linen shroud and placed over the face to preserve the memory of the individual-are among the glories of world art. Staring at us with intense, disturbing gazes, these men and women speak to us as if from the otherworld, transcending mortality and death. Greek artist Doxiadis, who traveled to museums and collections around the world to study the Fayum portraits, has produced an important and beautiful volume that fills a major gap in the documentation of the art of antiquity. She reconstructs the Fayum painters' techniques and places the portraits in a pictorial tradition extending from fourth-century B.C. Greek naturalism to Byzantine icons. We see the Fayum portraits as the product of a cosmopolitan, multiracial society of Hellenized Greeks, Romans, Syrians, Jews, Libyans and Nubians who had largely adopted the Egyptian cult of the dead.
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