Rare Egyptian Portrait Shines in Cobb’s Auction

Lot 94A in July 11 Cobb's Auction, Sold for $143,750.
Lot 94A in July 11 Cobb's Auction, Sold for $143,750.

On July 11, the highlight of the Cobb’s auction in Peterborough, N.H. was a wood panel of Egyptian portrait. The description of lot 94 says:

Sarcophagus Painting of Fayum, painting on gesso on wood panel, 13 1/8″ x 7 5/8″ with edge losses and upper corners cut. Painting depicts a woman wearing earrings and 2 necklaces over a pull over blouse, some cracks and paint chipping. Appears to be from the Roman 1st century A.D., period from Egypt . These are known as “Fayum,” portraits of a deceased upper class person. Provenance: A Peterborough , NH estate originally purchased in New York in the 1960’s. Estimate $30,000-50,000

I am not sure how sarcophagus is related to the portrait. Roman Period mummy portraits were painted on wooden panels that were slipped into the mummy wrappings over the face of the deceased. Often the artists used melted wax as a medium, building up thick layers of pigment and highlighting the facial features with touches of white. Although painted in the naturalistic tradition of the Greco-Roman world, these images are idealized representations of the deceased, and they were used in a traditional Egyptian funerary context.

But the vague description didn’t deter bidders’ enthusiam. The lot was accompanied by a letter verifying the purchase because the original receipt had not been located at the time of the auction. The portrait went to a London dealer buying for a client for $143,750 who won against 8 other phone bidders.

About Hui

Wang Hui lived from 1632 - 1717 and followed in the footprints of his great grandfathers, grandfather, father and uncles and learned painting at a very early age. He was later taught by two contemporary masters, Zhang Ke and Wang Shimin, who taught him to work in the tradition of copying famous Chinese paintings. This is most likely the reason why critics claim that his work is conservative and reflects the Yuan and Song traditions. One critic claimed that "his landscape paintings reflect his nostalgic attachment to classical Chinese aesthetics. Along with the other Wangs, Wang Hui helped to perpetuate the tradition of copying the ancient masters rather than creating original work.

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