Mummy portraits offer clues to how painting techniques evolved

Washington D.C, Feb 15 (ANI): With scientists getting a clearer picture of how ancient Egyptians painted lifelike portraits that were buried with mummies of the depicted individuals, evolution of painting techniques can be better understood.

A Northwestern University research team has taken CSI to a whole new level: employing sophisticated scientific tools to investigate details of the materials and methods used by Roman-Egyptian artists to paint lifelike mummy portraits more than 2,000 years ago. These visages of the dead are considered to be antecedents of Western portraiture.

Marc Walton and his interdisciplinary team have uncovered telling clues about the paintings’ underlying surface shapes and colors. The new details, when coupled together, provide the researchers with very strong evidence as to how many of the 15 mummy portraits and panel paintings were made.

The researchers identified the pigments used by the artists and the order the paints were applied and to which regions, as well as sources of materials and the style of brushstrokes used. Details of the pigments and their distribution led the researchers to conclude that three of the paintings likely came from the same workshop and may have been painted by the same hand.

This knowledge will help scientists, art conservators and art historians better understand how painting techniques evolved in the Byzantine Empire and beyond.

The materials analysis provides a fresh and rich archaeological context for the Tebtunis portraits, reflecting the international perspective of these ancient Egyptians, Walton said. “For example, we found that the iron-earth pigments most likely came from Keos in Greece, the red lead from Spain and the wood substrate on which the portraits are painted came from central Europe. We also know the painters used Egyptian blue in an unusual way to broaden their spectrum of hues.”

The research has been presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Washington, D.C. (ANI)

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