Roman funeral shroud of a woman
In this beautiful Roman funeral shroud, the woman’s rosy face and large eyes are striking. A long bone or ivory pin holds coils of her hair in place on top of her head, and she holds a small wreath in one hand. Over her abdomen Isis and Nephthys mourn, and over her lower body are placed the long strands of the late protective ornament as well as a net garment. Columns on either side of her head are invocations to the god Osiris, but her name is lost.
Viewed vertically this shroud has an architectural structure with a frieze of uraeus cobras and a winged sun disk across the top, and registers of scenes down either side of the female figure as if she stood in a doorway. Placed over the supine mummy the naturalistic painted bust would lie over the face, and the panels of gods would have been draped along its sides.
During the Roman period, there was a significant influence of Egyptian culture on the Roman Empire, particularly after the conquest of Egypt by the Romans in 30 BC.
It is known that during the Roman period, there was a blending of cultural practices between the Romans and the Egyptians. This cultural exchange could have potentially influenced burial customs, including the use of Egyptian funeral shrouds in Roman-period burials.
Egyptian funeral shrouds, known as mummy wrappings or funerary textiles, were typically made of linen and adorned with various symbols and religious motifs. These shrouds were used to wrap the deceased in preparation for burial, as part of the Egyptian belief in the afterlife and the preservation of the body.
The side panels are paired, showing the goddesses Isis and Nephthys as red kites (a bird related to the hawk); the four mummy-shaped “sons of Horus” associated with the bodily integrity; jackals associated with transit and cemetery; the Thoth-ibis and the Horus-falcon; and at the bottom scenes of the dead woman led by Horus and alternatively Anubis into the afterlife.
Interestingly, one specialist has noted that women may have had more flexibility in relation to tradition when creating shrouds, and might experiment more often with the ‘new’ Greco-Roman naturalism.
Roman Period, ca. 125 AD. Medium: Linen and paint. Dimensions: L 160 × W. 101.4 cm (63 × 39 15/16 in.) Framed: H. 164.5 × W. 104.5 × D. 5.1 cm (64 3/4 in. × 41 1/8 in. × 2 in.). Now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 26.5