Mummy Portrait: Woman with Necklace

unknown161 AD - 192 AD

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
Vienna, Austria

This charming bust of a smiling young woman is painted on wood in the technique of wax, or encaustic (from Greek enkaiein, to burn in). The coloured pigments are mixed with liquid wax and applied with a brush while still hot to cover a thin ground coat. While the medium is still warm, a spatula-like tool or sharp instrument is used to fuse the layers of colour together and bring out such details as the eyebrows. This method, used mostly for the skin, not only strengthens the artistic effect of the portrait but also gives the surface a lifelike structure. All in all, the artist was successful in shading the oval face with its velvety cheeks and rosy skin, but some details, such as the torso and the nose, seem inorganic and artificial. An effective contrast to the delicate flesh tones and light background is provided by the dark hair and the luminescent pink of the clothing. The rings of flesh around the neck are not a sign of age but rather, like the suggested breasts, an erotic aspect. Clad in a pink tunic with contrasting decorative trim, the woman is also wearing golden ear-pendants with pearls, and gold necklaces of differing size, one of them with a head of Medusa as a pendant. The simple pinned-up hair and facial features of the young woman with large eyes are imitative of portraits of the young Faustina, the wife of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. The practice of painting lifelike portraits of the dead and laying them over the face of the embalmed mummy is closely connected with the ancient Egyptian belief that the facial features of the dead had to be preserved for their life in the hereafter. © Kurt Gschwantler, Alfred Bernhard-Walcher, Manuela Laubenberger, Georg Plattner, Karoline Zhuber-Okrog, Masterpieces in the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2011


  • Title: Mummy Portrait: Woman with Necklace
  • Creator: unknown
  • Creator Death Place: unknown
  • Creator Birth Place: unknown
  • Date Created: 161 AD - 192 AD
  • Style: Roman, Mid- to Late Antonine
  • Provenance: found 1887 in er-Rubaiyat, egypt, bought in 1930 from the collection of the Vienna merchant Theodor Graf
  • Place Part Of: Egypt
  • Physical Dimensions: w215 x h365 cm (entire)
  • Inventory Name: ANSA X 301
  • Excavation: er-Rubaiyat, Egypt
  • Type: painting
  • External Link: http://www.khm.at/en/collections/collection-of-greek-and-roman-antiquities
  • Medium: Encaustic on Wood

Additional Items

Mummy Portrait: Woman with Necklace (Supplemental)

Mummy Portrait: Woman with Necklace (Supplemental)

Mummy Portrait: Woman with Necklace (Supplemental)

Mummy Portrait: Woman with Necklace (Supplemental)

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