Among the most seductive objects to have come down to us from antiquity are the funerary portrait panels originally attached to mummies from the years when Egypt was part of the Roman Empire. These roughly life-size, broadly painted heads, with their wide eyes and calm expressions, stare us down, demanding that attention be paid. Often known as Fayum portraits, although not all of them come from the Fayum in northern Egypt, they are so vivid and present that it can be hard to remember that they were made in the first three centuries A.D. Some of the most accomplished funerary portraits would look right at home hanging beside Edouard Manet’s paintings from the 1860s—the Boston Museum of Fine Art’s wonderful head of Victorine Meurent (ca. 1862), the model who posed for Olympia, The Luncheon on...


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