Six pottery bowls containing different coloured pigments

Roman, 1st century AD
From Hawara, Egypt

Colours from Egypt and Rome

These six cups were found stacked by the side of a mummy, which was subsequently named 'the painter' by the excavator, Flinders Petrie. The six cups are made of reddish-brown silt clay from the Nile. Four have thickened rims and conical bodies, a typical Roman form of the early to mid-first century. The other two are more Egyptian in form.

Traces of paint were found on the inside and outside surfaces of the cups and the pigments have been analysed, revealing their source. The blue is the so-called 'Egyptian blue', a man-made copper calcium silicate. The process of making Egyptian blue was lost for a thousand years after the end of antiquity. The dark red is hematite, an iron oxide; the white was gypsum; the yellow is jarosite, a sulphate; the bright red-orange is minium, also known as red lead, and the pink is madder, a plant dye mixed with gypsum.

Petrie speculated on their use: 'These, being water-paints, seem to be most likely intended for tomb-paintings on the walls'. However, with the exception of minium, they correspond more closely to those used for painting scenes on Egyptian cartonnage funerary masks, many of which date to the first century AD. Minium was essentially a Roman pigment, and thus probably a relatively new import into Egypt, the latest addition to the Roman Empire.

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More information


S. Walker and M. Bierbrier, Ancient faces: mummy portrai-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)


Height: 2.500 inches
Diameter: 4.000 inches
Height: 2.500 inches
Diameter: 4.000 inches
Height: 2.500 inches
Diameter: 4.000 inches

Museum number

GR 1888.9-20.23;GR 1888.9-20.24;GR 1888.9-20.25;GR 1888.9-20.26;GR 1888.9-20.27;GR 1888.9-20.28


Excavated by W.M. Flinders Petrie (1888)
Gift of H. Martyn Kennard


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