The Bowdoin College Museum of Art is excited to announce the acquisition of three portraits of Egyptian subjects made nearly 2,000 years apart. Mummy Portrait of a Young Man (ca. second century AD) features the face of a young man with striking, realistic features painted with encaustic (wax-based paint) on thin wood panels and embellished with intricate gold-leaf details. It is a rare type of funerary mask made in the Roman period, known as a Fayum portrait, of which fewer than one thousand examples remain. Fayum portraits were placed over the faces of the deceased and secured by the linen used in the mummification process. As a portrait that demonstrates the artistic and societal influences of Egypt’s Greco-Roman rule, the portrait offers many opportunities for students, faculty, and visitors at the Museum to explore questions of artistic influence and hybridity, national identity, politics, and Egyptian history.
The same themes emerge in the acquisition of two photographic portraits of an Egyptian man and woman, Ghada and Sayed (2013), made by the contemporary Iranian artist Shirin Neshat in the wake of the Arab Spring. The Museum is one of thirty-three academic art museums from around the world that successfully applied to the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, who donated the prints. Answering the Rauschenberg Foundation’s call to use the prints to foster challenging conversations about global issues and cross-cultural understanding, the Museum looks forward to exhibiting these important photographic portraits. These acquisitions contribute to the Museum’s strong collection of portraits from antiquity to today.