Some say that these portraits more interesting and remarkable than the excavation of the tombs of the Pharoahs... They’re just so real, so vibrant. You can really imagine these people in front of you and even picture them speaking, so it’s hard to believe that they’re almost two thousand years old.
Material-wise, these vivid and lifelike portraits that were found in Al-Fayoum in Egypt are made with either colored wax or tempera. The actual purpose of these portraits was also very specific, because they were not made for people who commissioned them themselves. They were made to depict the image of a beloved person who was recently deceased. In their portraits, they are shown at the height of their health, vigor, and beauty.
These so-called “Fayoum portraits” are in an unusually naturalistic style and are painted on wooden boards. They belong to the tradition of panel painting that was one of the most highly regarded forms of art in the Classical world. So it’s not as if just anyone could afford to have their picture painted. Based on the jewelry and clothing they are wearing, you can tell that these were wealthy yet ordinary citizens of ancient Egypt. In fact, the Fayyum portraits offer quite rich insights into the jewelry, accessories, and hairstyles of the period. In some cases we can eve read their names off of the panels. This woman’s name, for example, was “Eirene.”
Here are more of these incredible, ancient portraits:
To-date, hundreds of these Fayoum portraits have been found and each one is incredibly unique and revealing of the appearance and personality of someone from ages ago. Many of them are exhibited in the leading museums of the world, including in the US, Europe, and of course at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.