ένα μη κερδοσκοπικό και μη εμπορικό πολιτιστικό ιστολόγιο - a non profit and a non commercialized cultural blog

Δευτέρα, 21 Μαΐου 2007

THE FAYOUM PORTRAITS

The so-called Fayoum portraits found in Egypt, more than 1,000 of them, are the largest body of ancient portable paintings to have survived. They are portraits, painted mostly on wood, of men, women and children, young and old, believed to have been painted in their lifetime, sometimes framed and displayed in the homes, and later sawn to fit just inside the sarcophagus where they were placed on top of the face within the mummy wrappings to preserve the memory of the deceased. They have been recovered from cemeteries all over Egypt, but were not necessarily manufactured at the sites where they were found.

The Fayoum portraits, the most impressive group of paintings to have survived from the ancient world, startle because they do exactly what they should not; they are, after all, 2000-years-old and the past is another country. Why, then, should it be occupied by people who look like us?

For make no mistake, these are real people, and disturbingly so because they remain, across the millennia, recognisable. And it is the moment of recognition that provides the first shock.The idiom is just too modern for such ancient objects, too impressionistic,too fleeting to have survived.These faces frown, foreheads wrinkle, eyes fix the spectator with consistently mournful gaze.The paint, mostly though by no means always encaustic on wood, retains its fluidity, shows the marks of the artist, the brush strokes and manipulation of pigment by finger or hard tool. Both subject and artist remain present, the former literally so because these portraits are simulacra of what lies beneath.

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