These remarkable paintings take their name from a district of Roman Egypt, whose people in the first three centuries ad included Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Syrians, Libyans, Nubians and Jews. In the Egyptian tradition, they embalmed the bodies of their dead; but then placed a painted portrait over the mummy, preserving the memory of each individual to an uncanny degree. Over 1000 have so far been discovered – men, women and children of all ages. Illustrating almost 200 of the portraits, Euphrosyne Doxiadis’s book combines arresting beauty with up-to-date scholarship. Having selected the best and most interesting, she has grouped them according to the places where they were found. Many new photographs were commissioned and some are shown since cleaning.
Doxiadis’s text sets the people and the paintings in their social, artistic and geographical context, describing the techniques used and showing how the Fayum portraits relate to Byzantine icon painting, in a tradition that extends from ancient Greece to the Renaissance and on to the present day.