Highlights

Portrait of a Roman Soldier

2nd century BC

The technique used by the artist – wax worked with bladed instruments – adds real thickness to the medium, and lends a realism accentuated by the bright colours made from natural pigments. Greek artists invented this technique, but very few examples survive.

After the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great in 332 BC, and then the arrival of the Roman armies in 30 BC, Greeks and then Romans settled in Egypt and brought their traditions with them. These new arrivals kept the habit of having their portraits painted during their lifetimes, and hanging them on the walls of their homes. Over time, their lifestyles changed as they mixed with Egyptians. Mummification became a common practice in the Graeco-Roman population. When a person died, the portrait he or she had had painted while still alive was then inserted into the mummy's bandages. A crown was placed on the head, turning the deceased into an Egyptian god to live for eternity.

Such was the fate of the Roman soldier who now resides in our collections!

Inv. 2011.7.1

Portrait of a Roman Soldier
Portrait of a Roman Soldier

The technique used by the artist – wax worked with bladed instruments – adds real thickness to the medium, and lends a realism accentuated by the bright colours made from natural pigments. Greek artists invented this technique, but very few examples survive.

After the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great in 332 BC, and then the arrival of the Roman armies in 30 BC, Greeks and then Romans settled in Egypt and brought their traditions with them. These new arrivals kept the habit of having their portraits painted during their lifetimes, and hanging them on the walls of their homes. Over time, their lifestyles changed as they mixed with Egyptians. Mummification became a common practice in the Graeco-Roman population. When a person died, the portrait he or she had had painted while still alive was then inserted into the mummy's bandages. A crown was placed on the head, turning the deceased into an Egyptian god to live for eternity.

Such was the fate of the Roman soldier who now resides in our collections!

Inv. 2011.7.1

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