The “Mummy Portraits” of Roman Egypt: Status, Ethnicity, and Magic


Thursday, October 6, 2022, 6:00pm to 7:15pm


Hybrid Event: Virtual or In-Person, Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street

Painted portrait of a woman in a white garment with a broad purple stripe over the right shoulder.

Speaker: Lorelei H. Corcoran, Professor of Art History; Director, Institute of Egyptian Art & Archaeology University of Memphis

Advance registration required for both virtual and in-person

In ancient Egypt, one of the final steps in the mummification process was to equip the body with a permanent face covering that helped to protect the head and also to ritually transform the deceased into a god. The earliest examples of these were stylized masks, later replaced by more realistic-looking, painted portraits. Using evidence from the archaeological record and the Book of the Dead—a series of spells meant to guide the dead as they sought eternal life— Lorelei Corcoran will discuss the production and function of the “mummy portraits” that were popular throughout Egypt in the Roman period and what these images reveal about the religious beliefs and multi-layered ethnicities of their subjects.

Free parking at the 52 Oxford Street Garage.

Presented by the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East and the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture in collaboration with the Harvard Art Museums

Related exhibition at the Harvard Art Museums: Funerary Portraits from Roman Egypt open through December 31, 2022

About the Speaker

Lorelei H. Corcoran is Professor of Art History (Egyptian art and archaeology) and Director of the Institute of Egyptian Art & Archaeology at the University of Memphis, TN. She earned a BA in Classical Studies at Tufts University and a PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (Egyptology) at the University of Chicago. Her publications include Herakleides: A Portrait Mummy from Roman Egypt (Getty, 2010) with Marie Svoboda and Portrait Mummies from Roman Egypt (1-IVth Centuries AD) with a Catalog of Portrait Mummies in Egyptian Museums (Chicago, 1995), as well as contributions to the multi-disciplinary studies, Dress in Mediterranean Antiquity: Greeks, Romans, Jews, Christians (Bloomsbury, 2021) and Portrait of a Child: Historical and Scientific Studies of a Roman Egyptian Mummy (Northwestern, 2019).

Professor Corcoran’s research interests have focused in depth on the funerary traditions of Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt but also include the complementarity of text and image in Egyptian art and the role of color in Egyptian art. In 2016, she published the results of her identification of the earliest use of the manmade pigment Egyptian blue on a predynastic bowl in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (“ The Color Blue as an Animator in Ancient Egyptian Art,” in Global Color History: Interpreting the Ancient Spectrum [Gorgias Press, 2016]). Her work in museums has taken her around the globe and her fieldwork experience in Egypt includes participation as a staff member for the University of Chicago’s Epigraphic Survey and the University of Memphis’ excavation of KV-63 in Luxor, Egypt.  She has been invited to lecture at, among other institutions, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the University of Chicago, Brown University, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the British Museum and has been interviewed by the New York Times, the BBC, and NPR.

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