Hidden mysteries in ancient Egyptian paintings from the Theban Necropolis observed by in-situ XRF mapping - Sorbonne Université Access content directly
Journal Articles PLoS ONE Year : 2023

Hidden mysteries in ancient Egyptian paintings from the Theban Necropolis observed by in-situ XRF mapping


The material study of ancient Egyptian paintings began with the advent of Egyptology during the 19th century. By the 1930s, a lot had already been sampled and described. The limited palette for example has been analysed from actual painted surfaces but also from pigments and painting tools retrieved on site. However, most of these studies took place in museums while the painted surfaces, preserved in funerary chapels and temples, remained somewhat estranged from this primary physical understanding. The artistic process has been also reconstructed, mainly from the information presented by unfinished monuments, showing surfaces at different stages of completion. A lot of this modern and theoretical reconstruction is, however, based on the usual archaeological guessing game that aims at filling the remaining blanks. Our interdisciplinary project has decided to experiment on-site with state-of-the-art portable analysis tools, avoiding any physical sampling, to see if our knowledge of the work of the ancient Egyptian painters and draughtsmen could be taken at a further stage, while based on physical quantification that could be seen as a stronger and more reliable foundation for a redefined scientific hypothesis. The use of XRF mapping has, for instance, been applied to a known case of correction by surface repaint, something that is supposedly rare in the ancient Egyptian formal artistic process, while another fully unexpected one was discovered during the analytic exploration of a royal representation. In both cases, the precise and readable imaging of the physical composition of the painted surface offers a renewed visual approach based of chemistry, that can be shared through a multi- and interdisciplinary approach. However, this also leads to a more complex description of pigment mixtures that could have multiple meanings, where the practical often leads towards the symbolic, and from there hopefully to a renewed definition of the use of colours in complex sets of ancient Egyptian representations. At this stage, though the progress in this on-site material assessment of ancient works of art definitely means astonishing progress, one humbly has to face the fact that these ancient treasures shall still retain part of their defining mysteries.
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hal-04251254 , version 1 (20-10-2023)





Philippe Martinez, Matthias Alfeld, Catherine Defeyt, Hishaam Elleithy, Helen Glanville, et al.. Hidden mysteries in ancient Egyptian paintings from the Theban Necropolis observed by in-situ XRF mapping. PLoS ONE, 2023, 18 (7), pp.e0287647. ⟨10.1371/journal.pone.0287647⟩. ⟨hal-04251254⟩
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