ï~~Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 44 (2007) 273-276
Christina Riggs, The Beautiful Burial in Roman Egypt: Art, Identity,
and Funerary Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. xxiii
+ 334 pages + 12 colour plates. ISBN 0-19-927665-X.
Funerary art in Roman Egypt is often associated with the "Greek," naturalistic Fayyum portraits. Yet, even if naturalistic representations became
fashionable in Egypt in the course of the Graeco-Roman period, this does not
mean that there was no continuity with the past, as is the case with Ancient
Egyptian religion in general, and that the traditional ways of portraying the
dead were abandoned. This book tries to redress the balance by leaving out
the naturalistic portraits and devoting an entire study to traditional, "Egyptian" paintings on, for example, coffins, shrouds and mummy masks. When
naturalistic painting is referred to, it always figures within an immediately
"Egyptian" context. This study therefore takes a highly original approach and
is an important contribution to the topic.'
The book has been published in the prestigious, and appropriate, series
"Oxford Studies in Ancient Culture and Representation." It is lavishly illustrated, with one high quality black-and-white figure for every two pages of
the main body of the text and twelve beautiful colour plates. The author of
the book, Christina Riggs (henceforth: R.), was Curator of Egyptology at the
Manchester Museum and now teaches at the School of World Art Studies at
the University of East Anglia. She has already written several important articles
on the topic. The book is divided into five chapters, the first and last of which
form the introduction and conclusions, thus leaving three chapters in between
for the main presentation of the material.
In Chapter 1, "Introduction: Art, Identity and Funerary Religion," R.
sets out an ambitious program, namely to describe the interaction between
"Greek" and "Egyptian" art forms against the background of traditional funerary religion. Her analysis is based on three loosely related themes, namely art,
identity and funerary religion. In the section on art, R. successfully demonstrates that "Greek" and "Egyptian" elements formed a set of representational
choices. These choices depended on the identity of the person in question, the
theme of the next section. R.'s main point here is that Egyptian-ness and Greekness were used to construct identities and that these identities depended on
a given place and time. Representational choices in funerary art were further
determined, as appears from the next section, by the ongoing engagement with
Egyptian funerary beliefs, which were themselves developing in this period. In
1I would like to thank R.W. Burgess for correcting my English.