Funerary portraits from Roman Egypt depict men and women who lived and prospered two thousand years ago, yet the experience of looking at them feels hauntingly immediate. Their wide eyes return the viewer’s gaze, and their expressive faces seem almost familiar. It is no wonder that these ancient paintings have intrigued scholars and the public since their rediscovery after millennia buried under desert sands.

That so many of these artworks, painted in delicate pigments on linen or wood panels, survive today is remarkable; there are almost a thousand in collections around the world. Collectively they impart important knowledge about how the elite of Roman Egypt lived and died—and, especially, how they saw themselves and wished to be seen by others.

Less studied, until now, are the individuals who produced these paintings—the anonymous artists in ancient workshops. What can be learned from investigating the materials they used, the tools they developed, the techniques they mastered? This is the line of inquiry behind the Getty-led research project Ancient Panel Painting: Examination, Analysis, and Research (APPEAR). Begun in 2013 with a technical study of sixteen portraits in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, the project has grown to encompass a third of the known portraits of this type and has garnered the participation of forty-seven museums across the globe. Through the dedication of these institutions to the ongoing study of their collections and the contribution of their data to a central repository, APPEAR has revitalized scholarly interest in ancient paintings and provided a critical tool for understanding their production and influence on the history of art.

Broad dissemination of the discoveries emerging from APPEAR is a central goal of the project. The present publication, available in electronic and print formats, represents the proceedings of the first international APPEAR conference, held at the Getty Villa in May 2018. New research will emerge as the program continues to expand, and plans are already under way for the next symposium, tentatively scheduled for 2021.

I would like to express sincere thanks to all of the APPEAR institutional partners worldwide, and to the many conservators, curators, and scientists at each museum now engaged in the examination of Roman funerary portraits in their collections. The contributing authors to this volume have generously shared their data and their insights, so that old questions can be answered and new avenues of investigation can be explored. Thanks are due to Susan Walker, emerita fellow of Wolfson College, University of Oxford, for her keynote address at the APPEAR conference and her contribution to this book’s introduction. Caroline Cartwright, senior scientist at the British Museum, likewise made numerous contributions to the project, including serving as coeditor of this publication. Finally, I would like to acknowledge Marie Svoboda, conservator of antiquities at the Getty Villa and coeditor of this volume, for her inspired leadership of the APPEAR project.

  • Timothy PottsDirectorJ. Paul Getty Museum