boy with golden laurel crown, Faiyum portrait

This mummy portrait of young boy

seen on the penultimate spread of this book

has me quite taken. Click on the portrait, then click it again to enlarge to full-size and take in the startling texture. Light hits the forehead, the top of the cheeks, the chin. Of all the Faiyum portraits, the images of youths, usually male, are the most compelling. To me anyway. The idea of a person so young and with such advantage of obvious wealth perishing in their youth is heartbreaking and these portraits make them live in our hearts, enliven them in our minds even centuries after their passing.

Were you to search the web  "+boy +Faiyum"  you will see repeated a portrait of another boy that is much more well-known, more famous for some reason, probably because that portrait is better preserved and rendered in greater detail. That boy is known as Eutyches. But it is this one here, known as the boy with the golden laurel crown, that thoroughly arrests my attention. So far I have found only one example of this portrait online, on a pay site. I do not understand why this portrait is not as nearly so famed as the others which are seen repeatedly.  

Faiyum, el Faiyum, Fayum, Fayoum, however you choose to spell it, is, I believe, the largest man-made lake of antiquity. An oasis located west of the northern Nile just before it fans out to the Delta. Thousands of mummy portraits were discovered there. OKAY FINE! Hundreds of mummy portraits were discovered there and all around mostly northern Egypt, actually, but the portraits of Faiyum are the most familiar, so all these mummy portraits of the Roman era are called Faiyum, referring to the life-like Roman style, not necessarily the precise location.  A separate museum is planned to house these portraits. Not all of them, of course, they are already spread across world museums. 

The portraits are of two types. Tempera, pigment with egg albumen, and encaustic, pigment carried on  hot bees wax . The photo above, a photograph of a photograph, of a portrait, was automatically color-corrected by the brilliant internal technical magic of my camera. The photo in the book is much more yellow, nearly entirely yellow and gold and brown. Even the whites of the eyes and the tunic are not white in the book, which suggests to me the encaustic method did have its problems preservation-wise and restoration-wise. 

These portraits were mounted into the bands of fabric that wrapped the bodies. They would have been inside the coffins, not on the outside of the coffins as one might expect, and so better protected. At least more protected than an exterior image would have been, which undoubtedly would also be far less refined, if even there at all.

So realistic are these portraits that when they first appeared on Western markets they were considered fakes. Surely, nothing this realistic and well executed could have been done that early. I find this historic tendency to underestimate ancient people a little bit depressing. Actually, the self-satisfied arrogant ignorance infuriates me.  [Hawass, the author of the above book, on his television show Chasing Mummies, is seen dragging himself through the tunnels deep within a pyramid along with a nearly idiotic film crew and a few upstart Egyptologist presumably post graduate acolytes. In answer to a question posed by Hawass, one of the followers, chirped, "by aliens!" Hawass rightfully nearly bit his head entirely off, were it not so thick, right there on the spot with one quick giant bite, "AF-DER-ALL-DIS-TYME-U-SU-GEST-SUM-DING-SO-STU-PID!"  He might have added, "GET OUT OF MY SIGHT. U WILL NE-VER WORK IN E-GYPT AGAIN!" As is his wont. He is comically certifiably bi-polar in the way he absolutely brooks no fools whatsoever, "YOU SHOULD BE CHE-KING GRO-CE-RIES IN-STEAD" then the very next moment tenderly instructs them.]

The portraits all share common stylistic  characteristics. Straight on frontal view from shoulders up, large eyes, rounded lips. I notice that most have painted eyelashes on the bottom but not the top, this one is the rare portrait with eyelashes on the top but not on the bottom. 

The laurel leaf crown is the symbol for athleticism. Aw, a footie player, were he a modern-day boy.  Adorable. 

Rare is is the smile in these portraits, even a hint of one. Apparently smiling in the Roman world conveyed insincerity or absence of seriousness or the like, perhaps even stupidity, rather like modern-day Danes regard asinine smiling. Except for the very young where irrepressible smiles do charm universally. That is one more reason why these pictures of children hit me so hard. It is as if the life in them could not be taken entirely. In that, they win. 

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