Portrait of a Woman
Roman Period, 130-161 C.E.
Encaustic on wood panel with gilt stucco
This portrait of an unknown woman was made when Egypt was part of the Roman Empire. It was meant to be placed over the face of a mummy. The portrait is arresting: her wide eyes, framed and emphasized by her heavy brows, stare out at the viewer as though she is alive today. The artist painted it using the encaustic technique. Mixing organic colors in hot beeswax, he applied the hot paint to a specially prepared wooden board. One Greek writer, the so-called Pseudo-Plutarch, appropriately commented: "A beautiful woman leaves in the heart of an indifferent man an image as fleeting as a painting on water. In the heart of a lover, this image is fixed with fire like an encaustic painting, which time can never erase."