A STUDY IN PURPLE
Minerva|January/February 2021
A tiny speck of purple paint from the 2nd century AD may yield clues to how ancient artists created the extraordinary portrait panels that accompanied mummified bodies into the afterlife.

Known as ‘Fayum portraits’, after the area in Middle Egypt where they were found, these vivid likenesses date from the Roman occupation of Egypt between 30 BC and the middle of the 3rd century AD. Painted on wood panels or linen, the portraits were attached to the bound bodies of their subjects. Today, more than 1,000 of these mummy portraits survive in museums and collections around the world. They depict a range of men and women, from the very young to the very old – but little is known of the artists who created them, or where and how they were made.

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