Mummy portraits of a boy and a girl from Egypt
Tempera on plastered linen
Height: 0.26m. (boy), 0.27m. (girl), width: 0.15m. (boy), 0.17m. (girl)
Provenance: Egypt, donation of I. Demetriou (1880-1886).
Date: third quarter of the 4th century AD.
Exhibition location: Egyptian Collection, ground floor, Room 40, Case 20 no. 3
The features of the busts are sharply rendered and delicately calligraphic. The handling of the lips recalls the portraits from the ancient cemetery at er-Rubayat in Egypt (8km west of the Graeco-Roman city Philadelphia). It is possible that this necropolis served the neighbouring settlement at the site of today’s Mansura. Both persons wear creamy-white tunics with a brown-black stripe (clavus) on the right shoulder, which conforms to Roman custom, and a mantle over the left. Amulets hang from what is probably a leather cord around the neck. The central cylindrical golden case (phylakterion) was the amulet par excellence. It first appears in the period of Middle Kingdom (2134-1650 BC) and becomes an especially popular type of jewellery in Egypt during the Graeco-Roman period. It was worn mainly by boys and girls in every day life or at the time of their burial. When it bears an incised inscription on its exterior, its aim is to secure its owner good health and alleviation of any pain and fever. When the inscription is incised on a gold tablet and set folded within the case (lamella), its contents concern magic and relate to beliefs pertaining to the afterlife and are intended to ensure the purification of soul of its bearer. The other two pendants worn by the boy that flank the central pendant are probably miniature busts of the gods Isis and Sarapis. Locks of hair from the boy, correctly affixed to the right side of the head, are tied according to the practice of the god Horus. Such locks were usual for children of both sexes in the Graeco-Roman period and were cut at the age of 13 or 14, in a ceremony called mallocouria.