Pigment sample - ROM2018_16270_2


Pigment sample

Medium:Pigment and frit
Geography: Excavated at Deir el-Bahri, Egypt
Period: Undetermined Period
3.1 × 3 × 2.7 cm
Object number: 906.18.29
On view
Gallery Location:Galleries of Africa: Egypt

Surviving Ancient Egyptian pigments remain bright and vivid after thousands of years because most were manufactured from naturally occurring minerals whose colours are not subject to fading or, usually, colour change.  Though recent scientific examinations have revealed that the choice and mixture of minerals were more sophisticated than previously thought, the basic method was to grind the chosen minerals, often with fine quartz sand, and natron, mix with a binder such as resin, and sometimes to bake the resulting lumps. The sample of pigment would have to be ground again, often by apprentices, until it was as fine as sifted flour, and then mixed with an agent or medium such as vegetable gum, beeswax, honey, or milk or egg.

Pieces of pigment like this have often been found in the tombs of artists, and on sites, where they were perhaps lost or mislaid. This piece is made of what's usually called Egyptian Blue, which was chiefly a mixture of fine quartz sand, finely ground malachite (an ore of copper) and natron, a naturally occurring mixture of calcium carbonate and bicarbonate, with impurities of other salts.  Egyptian blue could be made lighter or darker by controlling the amount of calcium used in the mix.

For readers interested in a more strictly scientific exploration of Egyptian pigments, W.V. Davies, editor, Colour and Painting in Ancient Egypt, British Museum Press, 2001, is highly recommended.

Object History: Excavated by the Egypt Exploration Society, 1905-1907
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