ARCE Northern California: Roman Egyptian Mummy Portraits and the Artistic Circle of the St. Louis Painter

Presented by: Dr. Branko F. van Oppen de Ruiter; the Richard E. Perry Curator of Greek & Roman Art at the Tampa Museum of Art

  • 3:00 PM PT Northern California
  • Room 20 Social Sciences Building (Formerly Barrows Hall) Barrows Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720
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Lecture Information

In his publications Mummy Portraits in the J. Paul Getty Museum (1982), David L. Thompson attributed three Roman Egyptian funerary portraits to the same artist, whom he named the St. Louis Painter on the basis of a portrait of an elderly woman in the St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM inv. no. 128:1951; Thompson 1982, pp. 20–22, figs. 35–37). Without further information, Thompson acknowledged that “a number of other portraits are related to those by the St. Louis Painter and some to each other by these differences,” and dated the activity of the artist’s workshop to around 300 CE. Before and since, several other scholars have recognized the stylistic similarities between about a dozen funerary portraits from ancient Philadelphia (confusingly still called “Rubayat”) with estimated dates ranging between 165-350 CE.

This paper will re-examine the attribution of the portrait panels to the St. Louis Painter (also known as the Würzburg Painter) and suggest that some two dozen examples can be assigned to this anonymous painter, workshop or circle. Stylistic elements by which these paintings can be grouped together include a distinctively graphic hatching style. The portraits generally lack a sense of depth and perspective, though some foreshortening is often indicated on the left side of the face. The basic outline is usually drawn with a broader brush, while the individual details are applied with a thinner brush. The outline tends to follow basic physiognomic proportions that are not only common with other Roman Egyptian portraits, but with Roman portraits from contexts such as the wall paintings of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Speaker Bio

Dr. Branko F. van Oppen de Ruiter is the Richard E. Perry Curator of Greek & Roman Art at the Tampa Museum of Art. He received his PhD in ancient history from The City University of New York (’07), where he specialized in queenship during the period from Alexander the Great to Cleopatra. Before coming to Tampa, van Oppen worked for five years at the Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam. His academic interests further include clay seal impressions, animals in ancient material culture, Romano-Egyptian funerary portraits, as well as ancient religion and art history in general.