Painted Faces of Death; Cryptic

by Pasadena Adjacent


The Editor at Team Pasadena Adjacent was prodded into visiting the Getty Villa by a fellow team member. We signed up to attend a lecture on 60 recently discovered Fayum Tomb Paintings. Our “Said” team member was heavily influenced by the rare naturalism exhibited in these artifacts of late antiquity; especially the use of encaustic paint (on board) featured in the more vibrant and expressionistic of the paintings. Although our team member’s self portraits aren’t at the Getty, “Siempra Estela” 8′ x 8′  Wax on Plywood 1980 IS in a permanent collection. The California Center for the Arts, Escondido.

Back Story:  Faiyum, south of Cairo, was inhabited by a minority of Ptolemaic Greek colonists who had long since intermarried with the local population. Although they identified themselves as being Greek, by the time of Roman rule, dental morphology seems to suggest they had more in common with earlier populations of native Egyptians. Thus, Faiyum Greeks were made-up of either Hellenized Egyptians or people of mixed Egyptian-Greek origins.

The Fayum portraits, 100-300 AD, support a complex synthesis of three differing cultures. Adopted Egyptian religious beliefs favored mummification, mummy masks and decorated coffins (video) –  the Greeks and Romans practiced cremation. The Fayum portraits serve as an extension of the mummy mask,  but in terms of  the artistic tradition of personalized realism, they’re more aligned with Graeco-Roman-Coptic culture. And the jewelry, dress and hair – Roman fashions of the time.

The finished Fayum panels covered the faces of the mummified forms. Layers of wrapping enclosed the body, and the portraits were set into bands of cloth, giving the effect of a window-like opening through which the face of the deceased could be seen. Some portraits were painted directly onto the canvas cloth (video). Although almost all the portraits were detached from their host’s, those that have persevered, are painted on boards or panels made from imported hardwoods;  oak, lime, sycamore, cedar, cypress, fig, and citrus. The paint used  was either wax encaustic or the more subtle egg tempera, which produced a chalkier and finer gradation of tones. (portrait in video)

The Assyrian Centaur, jammed into the doric-esque column, is part of the Uniroyal Tire Company’s faux Asserian Palace at Nemrud. Restored and reincarnated as a outlet mall. A case of Assroyomania.

…..and it has nothing to do with Fayum Tomb Paintings.

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