Girl with the Golden Wreath, encaustic on linden wood, ca. 50–75 CE, Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam.
Like most mummy portraits, the original burial context of the Girl with the Golden Wreath is unknown. Mummy portraits have historically been associated with a cluster of sites in the Fayum Oasis in Egypt, southwest of modern Cairo, but they have been found all over Egypt.
The Fayum Oasis in particular was a region where foreign settlers and indigenous people intermarried and created a multicultural society. These portraits embody the blending of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian funerary practices as well as the melding of those cultural and artistic traditions. The Girl with the Golden Wreath is wearing a Roman-style red tunic with black stripes, a gold hair ornament, and jewelry. The girl’s barely visible pearl necklace is of classical Greco-Roman style, while her hair is bound in Roman Imperial style. In general, the decoration of mummified remains with a painted portrait was an expensive practice that only the wealthiest members of the Greco-Roman elite in Roman Egypt could afford.
The encaustic painting technique used for these portraits was first developed in Classical Greece. Encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting, uses heated beeswax mixed with colored pigments. It is a difficult medium to use but beeswax provides a depth of material allowing for more manipulation of the surface and makes the finished work startlingly life-like.