Rudolf Mosse was a successful entrepreneur, progressive political thinker and philanthropist in the late 19th and early 20th century. He founded a publishing and advertising conglomerate that included the Berliner Tageblatt, an early and outspoken critic of the Nazi party. Mosse was a devoted patron of the arts, particularly in the field of Egyptology and sponsored digs led by Karl Brugsch, whose excavations yielded the foundation for what is now the Cairo Museum. It is likely that the Fayum portraits offered in this sale were a result of this relationship.
When Hitler's party rose to power in 1933, 13 years after Mosse's death, his daughter and sole heir Felicia Lachmann-Mosse and her husband, Hans Lachmann-Mosse, the publisher of the Berliner Tageblatt, were forced to leave Germany while their considerable art collection was seized. In 1934, the collection was disbursed, and the Fayum portraits were acquired by Erich Maria Remarque, author of the World World I novel, All's Quiet on the Western Front, and his wife, the actress Paulette Goddard-Remarque. In 1979, the University of Zurich acquired both portraits from Mrs. Remarque. The works are now being sold on behalf of the Mosse Foundation, which represents the current heirs of Felicia Lachmann-Mosse.
Painted mummy portraits are the most significant body of material for the study of Roman portrait painting in existence. As such, they provide insight into Romano-Egyptian burial customs as well as style and fashion trends from the 1st-3rd century A.D. Exactly how they were used before being bound and wrapped onto the head of mummies is unclear. One discovery suggests that they hung in frames in homes until eventually they were placed over the mummy. It has also been suggested that they were painted close to the time of death and carried around the local city during a procession (ekphora) celebrating the deceased before being taken to the embalmer. These portraits were named after the Fayum oasis where a large number have been found. The two portraits from Rudolf Mosse's collection are exceptional examples.
This female portrait dates to the Hadrianic period on account of her distinctive hairstyle, worn up with a single braid encircling the crown. Her earrings are also common to this period. The gold necklace with lunula pendant was more common in the 1st century A.D., suggesting it may be an heirloom. For a similar portrait in the Louvre, see no. 109 in E. Doxiadis, The Mysterious Fayum Portraits, Faces from Ancient Egypt.