It was all skillfully stage managed by an Austrian antiquity dealer by the name of Theodor Graf, who had the foresight to buy up and exhibit around the world all the portraits dug up by locals in the vicinity of the Fayoum town of el-Rubaiyat, perhaps from the ancient cemetery of Mansura.
Those who purchased Graf's portraits included many well known figures, including the Viennese founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, who owned two of these paintings.
Also questioned is his theory that, for a few years, these mummies were kept above ground.
Most of the portraits depict the deceased at a relatively young age, and many show children.
More men were put on to this region, and in two days another portrait-mummy was found; in two day more, a third, and then for nine days not one; an anxious waiting, suddenly rewarded by finding three...
Altogether, sixty were found in clearing this cemetery, some much decayed and worthless, others as fresh as they day they were painted." Petrie would later return to this cemetery and excavate another rich harvest of these portraits.
However, scans of many mummies reveal a correspondence of age and, in suitable cases, sex between mummy and image.
The "Fayoum Portraits", life like paintings once bandaged in place over the face of mummies dating usually between the first and third centuries AD, are now well established in the popular perception of ancient Egyptian art, thanks to a number of fairly recent exhibits.
Yet, they provide a wealth of information about the clothing, adornment and physical characteristics of Egypt's wealthier inhabitants during Roman times.
The unique art form of mummy portraiture flourished in Roman Egypt.
These portraits were, in many cases, finely executed in encaustic paint on wood or, less frequently, on stuccoed linen.
With their direct full gaze and strong presence, these portraits, at once Greco-Roman in their painting style and intrinsically Egyptian in their purpose, bring the inhabitants of ancient Egypt before us with compelling immediacy.
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