This linen canvas, known as the “Lady of the Vatican”, belongs to a particular type of female burial shrouds of which there are only six known specimens, dispersed in various museums.
The portrait of the deceased is not limited solely to the face, but instead depicts the full life-size figure of the woman. She is reclining, as may be seen by the position of her feet, which are elongated and rest on a cushion. She wears jewellery, executed in relief using plaster and gilded.
The figurative panel is divided, in the upper part, by a series of concentric frames and friezes and, in the lower part, by a frieze divided into rectangular areas with figurative illustrations, of which two are conserved: in the first there is a scene of philosophical instruction with a teacher and young pupil, probably the deceased herself; in the second, of doubtful interpretation, there is what appears to be a fight between a young man and a lion.
The shroud was discovered in 1900 by Albert Gayet in the site of Antinopolis and donated to Pope Leo XIII in 1902 by Émile Guimet, along with the corresponding mummy. The archaeological context of origin and an iconographical study of the portrait would date it from the third century A.D. The robe and jewels are typical of the Roman context and the hairstyle in particular is inspired by the fashion of women of the Severian imperial house.