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Funerary Portrait of a Man with a Cup

ca. 225-250 CE

Octavian's Victory in the battle of Actium over the forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII in 31 BCE sounded the death knell of pharaonic Egypt and resulted in its annexation into the nascent Roman empire. A few decades later, the reign of Tiberius (14–37 CE) was a period of unprecedented artistic synthesis between the Egyptian and Roman traditions, above all in the field of funerary portraiture. This depiction of a man with a cup is undoubtedly one of the most successful examples. Clad in a Roman tunic and holding a myrtle branch and a cup filled with wine, a man in his prime looks out on us from ancient times. Probably painted during his life-time, his serious, hollow-cheeked face is rendered with remarkable skill. All the nuances of the complexion are captured by the taut brushwork and handling of the paint by an artist trained in the school of Roman realism. While his long, straight, narrow nose, fleshy lips, moustache and beard are all details that lend individuality, his disproportionately large eyes and fixed and captivating gaze are directly derived from the Egyptian tradition of representation.

Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi/ Photo: APF

Even though cremation was the preferred Roman custom for dealing with the dead, the Romans who settled in Egypt, like the Greeks before them, adopted the Egyptian rituals of embalming and mummification. Very probably cut out after the subject’s death for attachment to his mummy, this type of portrait replaced the funeral masks that had been in use since the pharaonic era. This development achieved two complementary aims: to preserve the face of the deceased for all eternity and to honour his or her memory in accordance with Greek and Roman practices.

Artwork Details

Title: Funerary Portrait of a Man with a Cup
Geography: Antinopolis (?), Egypt
Date: ca. 225-250 CE

Medium: wax paint on wood

Classification: funerary specimen
Dimensions: 42.7 x 23 x 0.9 cm
Inventory number: LAD 2014.024
Contact for images: [email protected]


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