Fayyum Portraits

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Fayyum Portraits


(also spelled Fayum or Faiyum), painted ancient Egyptian funerary portraits; named after the Al Fayyum oasis, the site of the first major find in 1887.

The painting of the Fayyum portraits was widespread in the mid-first to third centuries. The portraits were executed by the wax-painting technique on a wooden tablet, which was then placed over the face beneath the mummy’s wrappings. Some early portraits were painted on canvas. The replacement of the traditional ancient Egyptian burial mask by the Fayyum-type portraits occurred in a Greco-Egyptian milieu under Roman influence. Sometimes, portraits were painted during an individual’s lifetime for display in the home and were inserted into the mummy after the individual’s death.

Two stylistic schools of Fayyum portraits are distinguished: the classical school and the Egyptian school. Portraits of the first school are distinguished by vivid, lifelike images, a sense of three-dimensionality, shading effects, and a three-quarter view of the head. Portraits of the second school are characterized by sketchiness, two-dimensionality, a frontal view of the head, and sharp contours.


Strelkov, A. S. Faiumskii portret. [Moscow-Leningrad] 1936.
Shurinova, R. Faiumskie portrety. Moscow, 1960.
Zaloscer, H. Vom Mumienbildnis zur Ikone. Wiesbaden, 1969.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Ancestors of the Byzantine icon, the Fayyum portraits were at first naturalistic in style, but grew steadily more abstract and hieratic.