Creating the composite drawing of the Bark Sanctuary’s western outer wall in the Small Amun Temple at Medinet Habu (Part 1)

Sep 25, 2018

Negatives 8154 (MHB 163) and 8146 (MHB 165) used for traditional penciling on enlargements

The documentation process for the western outer wall of the Medinet Habu Bark Shrine was fairly complicated, although at first sight the project seemed rather straightforward. Two inked drawings of the large offering scenes flanking the doorway had already been made, and only the central area, including the two doorjambs and the lintel, still awaited documentation. When the decision was made to complete the documentation of the entire wall surface in digital form, however, large sections, including the cavetto cornice, torus moulding, kheker frieze and lower dado, had not yet been included in the overall plan for the wall. Of the two existing drawings, the northern half of the wall surface (MHB 163) was a traditional enlargement, penciled and inked by present author in 2007, while the southern half (MHB 165) was originally penciled and inked by a different artist, at an even earlier date, and was already collated and selected for digital modification. The central wall section, including the doorjambs and the unfinished lintel (MHB 164), was already photographed and printed, with the enlargements ready and waiting for the artist to start penciling.

Section 1 - Preliminary studies

When the first drawing (MHB 163) was produced, there was no digital drawing technology available. All elements of the decorated surface were penciled (and later inked) on a photographic enlargement, so the multiple layers of painted details were distinguished only by using slightly different line weights, resulting in some instances in a confusing maze of dotted lines. When, years later, the present author was tasked with completing the unfinished drawing for the parallel scene (MHB 165) on the south side, closer observation of the well-preserved painted layers suggested the necessity of a more sophisticated paint study and a more nuanced method of documentation.

The complexity of the surface

It was clear early on in the documentation process that the decorative elements on this particular wall surface had gone through numerous historical modifications before reaching their present state. Certainly, the original decoration dates to the reign of Thutmosis III and was carried out in the traditional fashion by applying the usual 18th Dynasty paint scheme over raised relief. Both scenes depict ithyphallic Amun-Re facing Thutmosis III, who is engaged in “putting hands on the god” with a cloth strip draped over his shoulders.

Later on, the cartouches and figures were attacked by the agents of Akhenaten and restored in the post-Amarna period. Subsequently, an earthquake caused significant shifting of the individual blocks from their original positions. During the Ptolemaic restoration of the monument, the bark shrine underwent a series of reconstructions and modifications, and many of its scenes were either recarved or covered over with layers of blank plaster.

On this particular wall section, some blocks were so badly damaged that they had to be replaced by new ones, and some parts of the now-displaced scene elements had to be recarved entirely. This task was carried out using thick infills of plaster, and the scenes were wholly repainted in the Ptolemaic style, sometimes ignoring the Thutmoside iconography and using a significantly different paint scheme than the 18th dynasty original. In a later stage, the entire doorway was enlarged, and the original lintel was replaced by a new one, prepared for a more elaborate doorway facing towards the interior of the bark shrine. Parts of the doorjambs were shaved off to make room for the new replacement lintel, which was, however, never decorated and remained unfinished. Moreover, some of the original wall blocks were ripped out and replaced with new ones. To complicate the situation further, parts of the scenes had been covered by a thin layer of plaster, just as on many other surfaces within the ambulatory, which was partially removed during modern times, leaving numerous scrape marks and further destroying the surviving decorative elements.

Studying the Wall Surface

(1) Traces of the eroded kheker frieze on the Thutmoside decorative layer. The lack of later paint on the surface is due to its being entirely plastered over and redecorated on the plaster surface in the early Ptolemaic period.

(2) Early Ptolemaic repair on the king’s body that was carved in plaster and painted afterwards. Most of the plaster didn’t stick on the surface for long and now appears disconnected from the rest of the scene.

(3) Early Ptolemaic replacement block intended to fix a badly damaged scene showing some paint traces of Amun-Ra’s flail and border elements. Surface scars indicate the relief that’s long gone and was once carved in plaster.

(4) Traces of the two paint layers on one of the reused blocks from the original doorway. Early Ptolemaic red and dark blue paint indicates that the block was still in place at that time, therefore the original doorway was still in use.

(5) Complex architectural features at the upper right corner of the late Ptolemaic doorway. The original cavetto was hacked away, and gaps in between old and new elements were fixed with plaster.

(6) Two layers of paint indicating the perplexing early Ptolemaic repainting of the cavetto decoration at the top of the wall. The later paint scheme was largely similar to the original, but the stripes appeared slightly larger.

(7) The early Ptolemaic kheker frieze had a different appearance than the original, painted with broader brush strokes and more spacing applied in between the individual elements. Their paint scheme was slightly different as well.

(8) Early Ptolemaic kilt decoration on the king’s costume elaborates the original’s much simpler appearance. This typical Ptolemaic paint scheme and design pattern appears very consistent throughout the entire temple.

(9) Early Ptolemaic costume painted over the king’s upper body that completely ignores the original 18th Dynasty concept and adds strapped garment over the king’s naked upper body, decorated with a colorful bead design.

(10) Similar design elements of the two painted layers are often offsetting. Therefore, sometimes it’s very hard to distinguish between these usually faded paint traces when determining which layer they belong to.

The development of the digital epigraphy program made it possible to produce a multilayered digital file, even from static, traditionally inked drawings on paper, by scanning them and digitally separating the individual layers of information. Considering the opportunity to recreate these separate paint events on specified layers, and the number of modifications that had to be made on the original drawing, led to the decision to redraw the entire scene as a digitally inked facsimile. Eventually, this digital drawing (MHB 165) became the reference study for the treatment of the entire wall ensemble.

During preparations for documentation of the central doorway, a closer examination of the two reused blocks above the original doorjambs raised further questions regarding the complex history of the scenes. A reused block on the north had traces of a winged sun disk with some of the original paint preserved on the surface, bearing not just one, but two separate paint episodes, clearly indicating two sets of kheker friezes on top of each other on the upper section. Meanwhile, the southern block, which was re-used upside down, had a hacked central area once belonging to a torus moulding, while there were still some remains of a cavetto cornice visible above it. Careful measuring and comparisons led to the conclusion that both reused blocks originated from the 18th dynasty doorway. The two separate paint events on the northern one accord with the sequence of the painted kheker decoration on the wall above each scene, indicating a Ptolemaic redesign of these decorative elements while they were still in their original place. The later modification of the doorway clearly indicates a second, separate Ptolemaic phase. As it seems, the first redesign was fundamentally a restoration and treated the 18th Dynasty decoration in its original context; while a later phase ignored the previous decoration, dismantled part of the door frame and reused some of its blocks in the new doorway. To record and to depict these multiple events clearly and in context, the entire wall scene had to be represented as a unit, with the added option of showing each section or phase as a separate drawing.


The first step in preparing for such a complex project was to collect all the available data concerning the decorated wall surface. This meant gathering both the archival and the recent photographs of the wall along with making high resolution scans (1200 dpi tiff files) of all the previous drawings that were inked on paper. Once all the information was collected, it was necessary to build up an accurately scaled architectural plan of the entire wall. This was done based on simple measurements, such as determining width and height, with cross diagonals for reference, but more complex measurements followed, such as establishing the exact position of each of the blocks that had shifted out of position on the upper section. One difficulty was that this uppermost section of the wall lay outside the boundaries of the existing drawings. Once the outlines of the main architectural features were accurately established, the main three-dimensional elements, such as the cavetto and the torus, were perspectively aligned, and a final architectural drawing was created in Photoshop using a single weight brush stroke. Finally, a decision had to be made to reduce the file resolution temporarily to 400 dpi, to enable the Wacom Cintiq Companion to handle the necessary number of Photoshop layers. The entire drawing could later be upscaled again to 1200 dpi once the on-site digital penciling was complete, and the reduced elements forming parts of the final version (including the scans of the existing inked drawings) would be replaced with their full resolution counterparts.

Creating the Master Background

(1) Architectural plan indicating the edges of the wall section to be drawn, with some context - such as cavetto cornice and torus alignment - added for reference.

(2) Inserting 400 dpi versions of the existing inked drawings and making them part of the architectural plan was a key element to have guidance for the future penciling.

(3) Central doorway photo alignment was rather complicated because of the amount of perspective corrections that had to be made on the 3-dimensional elements.

(4) The upper and lower wall sections along with the northern torus area had to be photographed and inserted, because these areas weren’t originally planned to be part of the drawing.

Once the previously inked drawings were put in place, it was time to fit the various doorway photographs together and carry out the necessary perspective corrections. Photographs that were taken with the large format camera, while being extremely accurate on flat wall surfaces, showed significant distortion for three-dimensional elements. To correct the photographs, the main elements of the upper section (lintel, torus, and cavetto) were selected and separated onto different layers, with the correct architectural plan layered over them.

Basic scaling tools (Edit/Transform/Scale and Edit/Transform/Distort) were used to fit each of the larger selections within its correct architectural boundaries. Using the warp tool (Edit/Transform/Warp) proved the easiest way to distort and shift certain elements of the photo without impacting the boundaries, so it was extensively used to reach the final alignment. Whenever more confirmation of individual changes was needed, detail shots of smaller units were taken, along with re-checking the measurements to make sure each individual feature ended up in its correct position.

Distorted upper section aligned with architectural plan

Selecting areas for using the warp tool

Bending parts of the photo by moving the dividers

Perspectively corrected upper section

After aligning the photograph of the central area, additional photos had to be taken on the upper and lower sections of the side walls, of which no pre-existing photos were available. Since it was not originally planned to include these sections, they had to be pasted together meticulously from individual detail shots. Due to all the careful planning and the measurements previously taken, it was possible to shoot and assemble these areas without any advanced surveying equipment. Once the photo montages were ready to be placed onto the Master Background, all four areas were fitted and adjusted to align seamlessly with the other elements: the architectural plan, the photograph of the central area, and the existing drawings. The file was kept in 8-bit RGB color, since the color information was needed to be able to capture the different painted layers appearing on top of each other.

Detail photograph of the cavetto corniche on the south

Upper right corner reassembled from 16 photographs

Upper right corner aligned with the rest of the Master Background




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