The conservation and redisplay of the Nebamun Wall paintings

Fowling in the marshes: fragment of wall painting from the tomb of Nebamun (no. 10)

Project leaders: R. B. Parkinson, Karen Birkhoelzer, Andrew Middleton

Departments: Ancient Egypt and Sudan

Project start: 2000
End date: 2009

Other British Museum staff: Janet Ambers, Caroline Cartwright, Rebecca Stacey, Kenneth Uprichard, Patricia Usick

Other departments: Conservation and Scientific Research

External partners:
The Egyptian Museum Berlin,
Musee Calvet, Avignon,
Jose Galan, ‘Proyecto Djehuty’, Consejo Superior de Investigagiones Cientificas, Madrid  http://www.excavacionegipto.com/
Boyo Ockinga, The Macquarie Theban Tombs Project, Macquarie University
http://www.anchist.mq.edu.au/

Description:

Eleven fragments from the eighteenth Dynasty tomb-chapel of Nebamun at Luxor were acquired in the 1820-30s and are some of the finest wall paintings to survive from Ancient Egypt, although the exact location of the tomb-chapel is unknown. They are currently being conserved and re-mounted in preparation for their re-display in a new permanent gRemoval of old Plaster of Paris mountallery.

A full re-examination of the paintings’ meaning, together with a detailed investigation of their provenance has been undertaken in order to redisplay these paintings as works of art in an appropriate context. This research has been done in collaboration with other museums containing fragments of the paintings, with various institutional and private archives, and with colleagues working in the field at Luxor.

The conservation process has involved dismounting the paintings (mud plaster, gesso and painted surface) from the Plaster of Paris support backings applied in the nineteenth century. This has provided a rare opportunity to undertake a comprehensive scientific investigation of the materials and techniques of this outstanding group of paintings. The identification of the original materials of the paintings (the plasters, pigments and paint media) as well as materials applied during earlier conservation/restoration interventions has informed the conservation process. 

Objectives:

Applying foil as separation layer before casting new backing

The primary objective of the project is to re-display the group of eleven paintings from the tomb chapel of Nebamun.  The research will be published in a fully illustrated account of the paintings and their ancient and modern history, together with a new edition of the childrens’ book by Meredith Hooper.  Scientific information gathered during the project will be incorporated into the new display, and presented in a multi-authored volume. To this end the paintings have been carefully examined and conserved in order to stabilise the painted surfaces and underlying plaster backings.

Removal of soluble nylon from the surfaceAn essential part of the project is to present details of the assessment, conservation and re-mounting processes in a publication that is currently being prepared. The results of our investigation of past conservation treatments will be presented. In addition, a full account will be given of the analysis and identification of the original materials and methods of working of the paintings. Archival research has both informed and been informed by the conservation process and the findings of this research, along with archaeological research (both documentary and field-based) will be used to place the paintings and the current work by conservators and scientists in an appropriate context.

Publications:

M. Hooper, The Tomb of Nebamun (London, British Museum Press, 2008)

R. B. Parkinson, The Painted Tomb-Chapel of Nebamun (London, British Museum Press)

A. Middleton and K. Uprichard, (eds.), The Nebamun Wall Paintings: Conservation, Scientific Analysis and Display at the British Museum. (London, Archetype, 2008)


Images (from top):

  • Fowling in the marshes: fragment of wall painting from the tomb of Nebamun (no. 10)
  • Removal of old Plaster of Paris mount
  • Applying foil as separation layer before casting new backing
  • Removal of soluble nylon from the surface