Monday, December 28, 2020

Melon hairstyles and mummy masks of the Roman Period

 Plaster Romano-Egyptian mummy masks of the 1st - 2nd century CE appear to be individualized, much like the famous mummy portraits of the Faiyum region. But, in fact, most were made in a mold.  Distinguishing details were added while the plaster was still moist with a spatula or knife. Ears were added separately and, sometimes, eyes were inlaid then the mask painted or gilded.

"This woman's waved hairstyle is based on Roman court fashion, but three hanging corkscrew curls behind the ears and a short fringe of curls over the forehead and in front of the ears seem to reflect a local style. Toward the back of her head, above her ears, are traces of a smooth area that once represented a pillow. In general earlier Roman-period masks such as this one show the deceased as if reclining on a bier with the head on a pillow, while later masks have the head raised as if the deceased is rising from the bier. The underneath edge of this example is flat where it is meant to be attached to a body covering of wood or other materials." - Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The "melon" hairstyle used to cap the top of the head of this woman appeared in Greece before the 3rd century BCE.  In Egypt, it was worn by the Ptolemaic queens Arsinoe II and Berenice II.  More "masculinized" portraits of Cleopatra VII, such as the one that appeared on a 1st century BCE silver denarius,  feature a melon hairstyle. Roman women are thought to have copied the hairstyle, especially after Cleopatra's visit in 46 and 44 BCE. But, it fell out of favor when Octavian declared war on Cleopatra. Although the hairstyle was eventually replaced by the lavish Flavian hairstyles for a time, it reappeared during the Antonine period, most notably on portraits of Julia Domna, wife of Septimius Severus. It continues to be shown on female portraits through the 3rd century CE. 

Mummy mask of a woman with corkscrew locks and bang, 50–150 CE, Roman Period Egypt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. 

Roman female portrait of the 1st century BCE at The Louvre, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Marie-Lan Nguyen.

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