Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Fayyum Portraits...

The eyes – somehow stylized, somehow completely each man or woman’s own – astonish, even in the dimmed light (of the quietest room) of the Getty Villa at Malibu (where a few of these pieces rest; others are scattered, or in the Louvre... or not yet found).  Each face belongs to a Greek man or woman living in Roman Egypt; each gaze is confident, vibrant, direct and beautiful, the sitter accomplished and mature, dressed in his or her best, and yet ... both artist and sitter know that the final painting will be wrapped together with a funeral shroud. These are death masks, mostly egg tempera on wood, buried and later, the wooden portrait was separated from the body by -- thieves? The works contain cracks, an awkward pose here and there, the colors have likely faded, and yet, and yet ... look at them! 

These are not kings, none of them Tutankamen, and yet there is majesty, here ... if you are near the Getty Villa, the Louvre, or any other collection, go and see them ... they have waited a long time.


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