Portraying the Dead
As the preceding chapter demonstrated for sites as diverse as Thebes, Kharga Oasis, and Akhmim, Egyptian ideas about the afterlife guided the representation of the dead in funerary art. Verbal and iconographic comparisons to deities like Osiris and Hathor presaged the god-like qualities the dead would attain after their mummification, judgement, and rebirth. Further, linking the funerary image to a specific aspect of the deceased—namely, his or her sex—bridged the life and death of the individual. This concern with the survival of individual and social roles might have contributed to a trend increasingly observed in funerary art of the Ptolemaic and early Roman Periods, whereby the representation of the deceased included more ‘everyday’ details, such as jewellery, clothes, varied face and body shapes, and natural hair rather than wigs or head-dresses. These details supplanted the old-fashioned, pharaonic representation of the living to emphasize the transfiguration of the dead. Although the possibility that contact with Greek art in the Ptolemaic Period encouraged the use of ‘everyday’ details cannot be excluded, Egyptian art had a long history of contrasting archaic and contemporary norms of personal appearance. In a sense, it was the inclusion of contemporary elements in Egyptian funerary images that paved the way for the use of Greek-form images, and in the Roman Period, funerary art displayed a marked preference for naturalistically painted or sculpted images of the deceased drawn from portrait models in the Roman world. How this artistic change took hold, and to what extent it reflected social changes, is the subject of this chapter, which considers the variety of ways in which the dead were represented in Roman Egypt, especially in the first and second centuries AD.
The difference between a conceptual image with some quotidian elements, like clothing and jewellery, and an illusionistic one, where the living individual seems to have been captured in plaster and paint, ultimately derived from the difference between Egyptian representational art and Greek and Roman art. The Greek artistic system equated visual observation with pictorial representation, attempting at its