Fragment of tomb wall; part of painted bird-trapping scene on plaster.
- 2600BC (circa)
- Excavated/Findspot: Tomb of Itet
- (Africa,Egypt,Middle Egypt,Faiyum,Maidum,Tomb of Itet)
- Length: 59 centimetres (max)
- Width: 28 centimetres (max)
W.M.F. Petrie, Medum (London, D. Nutt, 1892), 27-8, plate XXVIII (2)
Harpur, The tombs of Nefermaat and Rahotep at Maidum, 193, fig. 81, pl. 18;
N. Strudwick, Masterpieces of Ancient Egypt, London 2006, pp. 50-1.
A.J. Spencer, Early Egypt, The rise of civilisation in the Nile valley (London, The British Museum Press, 1993), p. 111;
N. Strudwick, Masterpieces of Ancient Egypt, London 2006, p. 51.Strudwick N 2006
Meydum is the southern-most of the great cemeteries of the Old Kingdom, used only in the Fourth Dynasty. The most distinctive monument there is a pyramid; its outer casing has collapsed, revealing much of the inner core of what was probably a seven-stepped structure. The king who completed it was Sneferu, the first king of the Fourth Dynasty, and it was begun either by him or by Huni, the little-known last king of the Third Dynasty. A short distance away are a few mastabas of similar date, with a complex history of excavation. Fragments from the mastaba chapels of Itet and Rehotep are in the British Museum.
Itet and her husband Nefermaat each possessed a chapel within a large mud-brick mastaba, hers at the north end and his at the south. Nefermaat was a vizier in the reign of Sneferu, and perhaps a son of Huni or Sneferu. The tomb was probably completed in Sneferu's reign. Itet was buried in a chamber at the bottom of a shaft in the body of the mastaba, to the south-west of her chapel. The remains of her burial were found smashed to pieces - only chips of bone and fragments of pottery had survived.
Nefermaat's chapel contained decoration in a technique never used outside Meydum: the outlines of the figures were deeply cut into stone slabs and filled with paste, and the slabs were then built into the mastaba. Itet's chapel used this technique, but also contained some of the earliest painted scenes known from Egypt, including the world-famous geese, now in the Cairo Museum (CG 1742).
The two British Museum painting fragments are also of the highest quality. The upper fragment (this one) shows a small part of the figure of a man holding a carefully painted duck, and another man pulling a rope, which belongs to a clap-net for catching birds. This fragment came from the north wall of the east-west corridor, and can be reconstructed as part of a scene of three men closing a clap-net, watched by (probably) Nefermaat. Below these men were the geese, and below them a ploughing scene.
The lower piece bears part of the figure of a man feeding an antelope (registration no. 1979,1017.2) and came from the south wall of the east-west corridor in the chapel.
The clarity of the colours and the skill of the draughtsman in both paintings is outstanding, particularly in the details of the duck's feathers. In order to create these paintings, a smoothing coat of mortar was applied to the brick superstructure of the chapel, and then coated with a thin layer of plaster. Once dry, this plaster surface could be painted.
26 July 1985
Assess condition, prepare for exhibition.
The fragment has been laid on a thin wooden board, with the grain running horizontally in relation to the picture plane, so the board flexes at right agles to it. A board was screwed to the board to give some rigidity. Plaster of Paris was poured in to fill the gap between the fragment and the frame this was trowelled flat to the level of the painted background. In a number areas the plaster has overlapped the paint and adhered to it. Flexing of the board has allowed the fragment to move in relation to the mount and is therefore insufficiently supported, consequently the bond between the two has weakened and in some places broken. As a result thepainted ground has suffered damage around the edge of the fragment..The backing plaster is in two layers. The first is a coarse mix of Nile silt and straw, approximately 5cm in thickness. (Nile silt is composed mainly of clay and sand together with quantities of lime and gypsum). The second coat is a finer natural mix of clay and lime with the addition of chopped straw. This was applied in a 1cm thickness.The surface ground is probably gypsum, with lime as an impurity. This was applied to a thickness 0f 1-2mm. There is craquelure of the surface, this is slightly curling and suggests a lack of adhesion to the backing. There has also been complete loss of ground in some areas revealing the surface below.Water appears to have entered the porous fabric of the fragments during the set of the Plaster of Paris. The water has picked up a dark pigmentation from the original backing and deposited it on, or in, the paint layer, creating a meandering tide mark.Within the boundary of the water stain, colonies of miniscule black spots can be seen closely grouped together, these under magnification appear to be fungi.. These spots are not confined to the area of the tide mark but can be seen elsewhere on the painting. Possibly this is linled to the water used in the plaster mount.There are thick, cream coloured, paint like streaks down the painting. These streaks have suffered both craquelure and mechanical damage. Where the paint has flaked off the streaks also have been lost. Therefore, it could be assumed that they pre-date the deterioration. A stain has migrated into the grey background from several of these splashes.There are several areas of mechanical damage, the most noticeable being an area between the bird wing and the net rope.. There are losses of paint and ground to the edges of the fragment. There is spalling of paint in and around the area of the tide mark - probably related to the water in the plaster of Paris.A resin consolidant has been applied in some areas of mechanical damage. Patches of resin can be observed at random across the fragment which may suggest the whole painted surface has been thinly coated.
The incorrectly aligned bottom left corner was removed to allow for a new, correctly aligned mounting.The friable and weak perimeter edge was consolidated with 20g of Paraloid B72, methy methacrylate and ethyl methacrylate co-polymer:250mls dimethyl ketone. The edge was re-inforced with Paraloid B72 with an aggregate prepared from the backing plaster.A backing plate 3/8inch thick was used as a support for the fragment. This was pierced with random bearing location holes.The mount was tapped to receive 6mm modified coach bolts. 13 holes were drilled to provide some ventilation at the rear of the plate.7 x 3/8 stainless steel dowels were inserted into the their receiving screw holes in the plate and fixed with Sebralit, polyester resin.The back of the fragment was covered with aluminium foil, this would act as a separation layer from the new mount. Onto the back of this foil a mix of Vermiculite and epoxy resin was applied to form the mount. The pigments on the wall painting were identified by S.M. Bradshaw and V Daniels Ref SB/VD/MF
Originally given to the South Kensington Museum by Petrie immediately after his digging season of 1891-2 (Petrie, Medum, 28).
Ancient Egypt & Sudan
- 560-1891 (V&A number)
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Object reference number: YCA69369
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