Secrets of Egyptian paintings uncovered by chemical imaging
Image credit: Martinez et al., CC-BY 4.0
Using portable chemical imaging technology, an international team of scientists has uncovered the alterations made to two ancient Egyptian paintings.
The two paintings were placed in funerary chapels in Theban Necropolis near the River Nile. They date to the Ramesside Period, approximately 1,400 and 1,200 BCE, respectively.
The technology allowed researchers to undertake the experiments on-site, being able to analyse the paint composition and layering and identify alterations made to the artworks without having to remove them from their location.
The results of the experiments revealed that the headdress, necklace, and sceptre in the image of Ramesses II were substantially reworked.
In addition, in a scene of adoration depicted in Menna’s tomb, the position and colour of an arm were modified. Moreover, the pigments used to represent skin colour differ from those first applied, resulting in subtle changes whose purpose still remains uncertain.
The research was conducted by Philippe Martinez of Sorbonne University and scientists from the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) and Université Grenoble Alpes.
The team pointed out how unusual it was to find alterations in these types of paintings and called for further investigation to be done on the topic.
“These discoveries clearly call for a systematised and closer inspection of paintings in Egypt using physicochemical characterisation,” the researchers said.
The findings suggest these painters, or draughtsmen-scribes made changes to the artworks, likely at the request of the individuals who commissioned their works, or at the initiative of the artists themselves as their own vision of the works changed.
A change in symbolic meaning over time was also suggested as a motivation behind the alterations.
Earlier this year, researchers used CT scans to "digitally unwrap" the approximately 2,300-year-old mummified remains of a young boy, kept at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The scans revealed the boy was equipped with 49 amulets of 21 different types - many made of gold - which had been carefully placed on or inside the body.
The researchers' findings were published in the Plos One journal.
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