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Conserving a fragment of wall painting from the tomb of Nebamun

Nebamun’s geese, a fragment of a scene from the tomb-chapel of Nebamun

Conservators, presented with this fragment of wall painting (known as 'the Census of Geese') from the tomb of Nebamun, found it mounted on plaster that had been applied in the nineteenth century. The fragment was encased in a glass fronted box.

Today, plaster would not be used by conservators for this purpose: water vapour in the initial setting process and salt migration from the plaster cause instability in the ground of the painting and the water sensitive paint layer.

The case was detached and the plaster removed down to the lower edge of the original mud-straw backing. An inert support was given to the sides. Fragile, loose paint flakes were consolidated and a yellow coating from an old treatment was taken off with solvents.

After this stabilisation, the front of the fragment was covered with layers of acid free tissue and soft foam. It was then boxed and turned upright to remove the remaining plaster from the back of the fragment. Examination showed tool marks on the mud-straw backing from the tomb wall and a small speck of Egyptian blue pigment.

The mud-straw was consolidated, a separating layer applied and a foaming resin mixture was poured into the back of the box to provide a lightweight, inert support. Finally, when the resin had cured, the box was removed and the painting, now safe, could be put on display.