Paint the Eyes Softer: Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt

January 13 - April 22, 2018
Alsdorf Gallery

This exhibition will present Roman-Egyptian mummy portraits and related artifacts from the site of ancient Tebtunis in Egypt. The majority of the objects on view are loans from the Phoebe A Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, which holds one of the largest collections of mummy portraits from a single site in the world. The installation will foreground innovative techniques for the scientific study of objects and reveal to the public how partnerships between historians, archaeologists, and material scientists con provide new insights into these ancient artworks. The paintings have been the focus of a systematic study conducted by NU­ACCESS (Northwestern University/ Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts) and UC Berkeley using a variety of imaging techniques.

The Berkeley materials will be complemented by a mummy of a young girl from the collection of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary on the Northwestern University campus. This complete mummy with a portrait embedded in its wrappings comes from the site of Hawara, a site close to Tebtunis, is contemporary to the Berkeley objects, and will provide valuable context to the exhibition. 

Paint the Eyes Softer will be co-curated by Marc Walton, Research Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern and Senior Scientist of NU-ACCESS; Taco Terpstra, Northwestern Assistant Professor of Classics and History; and Essi Rönkkö, Block Museum Curatorial Associate. During the 2017 fall quarter, the guest curators will teach an advanced undergraduate seminar focusing these objects that will combine materials science, archaeology, and museum studies. Students will gain insight into and actively contribute to the exhibition’s didactic materials. They will also share their research through a public program during the exhibition’s run.

Exhibition support provided by Alumnae Continuing Education program funds of The Alumnae of Northwestern University and the Feinberg School of Medicine.  Presented in partnership with the Northwestern University McCormick School of Engineering.

Image: Three mummy portraits, second century CE, encaustic on wood. Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology; 6-2378b; 6-21377; 6-21379. Courtesy of the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology and the Regents of the University of California.

The Tebtunis Project

In collaboration with the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology (PAHMA) at the University of California, Berkeley, the Northwestern University / Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS) is performing a systematic technical study of Roman Egyptian paintings and mummy portraits excavated between December 1899 and April 1900 from the site of Tebtunis (now Umm el-Breigat) in the Fayum region of Egypt. The researchers have present some of these results with the aim of making this content accessible and useful to researchers interested in better understanding the painting methods used around 200 AD. [View]

Learn More:

Further Reading:

Northwestern Now: Detective Scientists Discover Ancient Clues in Mummy Portraits

Northwestern Now: Rare Use of Blue Pigment Found in Ancient Mummy Portraits

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