The Tomb of Rekhmire (TT100) - facsimile paintings by Nina de Garis Davies

Oct 25, 2019

Nina de Garis Davies, Women at a Banquet (color facsimile from TT100, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1925)

Nina and Norman de Garis Davies were two of the most influential artists/epigraphers devoted to recording Egyptian wall paintings in the first half of the Twentieth century. Norman was head of the graphic section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s expedition to Egypt, and Nina, although not officially at first, was assisting him in the tombs in which he was working. Their legacy is now held in a number of museums worldwide, most notably in the Metropolitan Museum, which possesses over 120 facsimile paintings of Egyptian tomb scenes by Nina Davies, and nearly 50 by her husband.

The work of Nina and Norman de Garis Davies is so versatile that its comprehensive presentation goes beyond the scope of this article. Instead, we would like to focus on one of the tombs they worked in together – the tomb of Rekmire (TT100) – the documentation of which encompasses much of their epigraphic and stylistic values. Even though Rekhmire’s tomb was the last of the Theban tombs which Nina and Norman recorded together for publication by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (it was published in 1944), Nina had already copied paintings there in the 1920s that were not included in the later publications but can still be seen in museums today.

Since the Davieses did not elaborate on their working technique, we respectfully turned to the excellent essay Nina M. Davies (1881–1965) by Nigel Strudwick in order to give our readers a glimpse into their documentation methods.

Project description

The Tomb of Rekhmire (TT100) was well known to the early visitors and copyists in western Thebes. Robert Hay worked there in the summer of 1832 and made the first records of its decoration. G. A. Hoskins, Cailliaud, Wilkinson, Prisse d'Avennes and others also copied some scenes. But it was not until 1889 that Philippe Virey made a complete survey of the monument. This, supplemented by copies of a large part of the texts and scenes published by Percy E. Newberry in 1900 served as reference for almost half a century. In 1907, the Metropolitan Museum of Art employed Norman de Garis Davies to record Egyptian tombs. His efforts in documenting TT100, where he worked together with his wife Nina and photographer Harry Burton, lasted until 1940 and were published posthumously in 1944 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A separate volume of paintings was published by the MMA in 1935.

“The present undertaking has sought to make good the shortcomings of previous publications by line drawings on an adequate scale and to afford worthy representations of the coloring of the tomb.”

Decorative program 

Rekhmire served as vizier and governor of Thebes during the reigns of Tuthmosis III and Amenhotep II. His tomb (TT100) is located at the base of the hill of Sheik Abd el-Gurna. 

“While its frontage, though broad and high, is not excessive, its axial gallery runs back more than one hundred feet into the hill. This narrow room, contrary to all custom, has a sharply rising ceiling, parallel with the slope of the hillside and reaching a height of more than eight meters at the inner end. Here a niche, some six feet high and deep, forms an exceptional feature, as its floor is nearly six meters above that of the tomb. The undecorated state of the middle of the back wall of this elevated chamber shows that a seated statue of the deceased was placed there, but the figure has not been preserved.”

“The T-shaped tomb, with its two narrow rooms-one penetrating far into the hillside, the other parallel with the façade - afforded space for a great array of painted texts and scenes, amounting to about seven hundred and fifty square yards… The end walls of the outer room, or hall, are devoted to personal matters. The south bay exhibits the special functions of the vizier, and the north bay, continuing this, shows his control of the estates of Amun…

The outer half of the walls of the axial gallery, or passage, still displays mundane scenes: namely, on the south side, the administration by Rekh-mi-Re of the temple properties and, on the north, pictures in which the official triumph of the vizier is woven into the event of the accession of Amen-hotpe II…

The funerary subjects which occupy the lofty spaces at the back of the tomb comprise a very full enumeration of the rites and dramatic tableaux connected with burial and all the ceremonies for the rehabilitation of the mummy or the statue which replaced it…

The mutilation of the name and figures of Rekh-mi-Re has been capriciously carried out, according as means of reaching them were at hand or not. Erasure is complete in the hall and the lowest parts of the passage, but above that level the attack was generally confined to the name and face. The latter has rarely escaped altogether, even at the highest points, and in the ceiling texts there, where a ladder of very exceptional length is required, Meryet is treated in the same way as her husband, though with a little less spite. The figures, when within easy reach, were ruthlessly destroyed by scratching away the entire surface and then, to make doubly sure, spreading a coat of peculiarly indelible red paint over the place. 

The erasures due to the fanatical zeal of the Atenists were still more thorough, extending even to the granite stela, the niche, and the ceilings…

To the deliberate injuries must be added those resulting from the occupation of the tomb by natives and their cattle, by reason of which the paintings on the lowest parts of the walls have been almost obliterated throughout the tomb. The ceilings, owing to soilure by bats, have lost most of their surface; and rain, leaking through a hole in the ceiling, has damaged the pictures at the north end of the hall. The mere passage of time has done serious injury only to the biographical text and to the small inscriptions, which, being written in light blue on a similar ground, are now so faint as to be often illegible.”

“The execution of the drawings in both line and color is admirable… A very high level is reached in the forms and color of the animals included in the tribute of the subject peoples (Pl. XX). The hieroglyphs in the hall are so carefully and delicately treated as to form the finest models and at their best are miniature works of art. Only the door framing is in incised work (pl. VIII); all the rest is in paint alone. In the hall the ground color is a grayish blue, which, in proportion as it thins down, takes on a pink tinge from the stone underneath.”

Documentation method

Nina Davies’s technique of painting in color:

“Colour facsimiles were of course the only way of representing polychromy available at that time. Much is rightly made of the painting materials she and Norman Davies employed. At the beginning of the twentieth century, it was normal for paintings in Egypt to be made using watercolours, which produce a rather flat finish. Not long after the Davieses settled in Qurna, they chose Theban Tomb 45 as a testing ground for experiments in colour copying. One of Davies’s first assistants, Francis Unwin, is then credited with suggesting the use of tempera, specifically egg tempera. The opaque result of this was much more satisfactory, and this technique became the basic method. 

The first step in producing a colour or line facsimile of a scene was to make a pencil tracing against the wall. Their basic material was tracing paper in sheets averaging about 90 × 50 cm. For it to be made into a painting it had to be transferred to the intended paper or board, and this was done using graphite (carbon) paper. Nina would then draw a rectangular border around the desired area, and probably enhanced some of the transferred lines in pencil. She then painted the rest by eye, but in front of the wall. Light was normally provided by mirrors and diffusers; sometimes several mirrors were required. 

The key to the success of her work is the method of application of paint. She found the best way of reproducing most aspects of the painting was to use the same sequence of colours as the original artist. Thus, when painting a male figure wearing a white robe through which the body colour is partially visible, she would paint the background, apply a solid area of colour for the body, overlay it with the white for the robe, and draw the red-brown outline, cleaning the figure up, as had the ancient painter, by application of further background colour. Nina did not, however, decide to facsimile the damage to a scene, but rather she developed a way of recording it using ‘indeterminate washes’, which indicate the texture and the composition of the holes, but do not distract the viewer of the painting. Cracks in the original wall were carefully drawn, and often seem three-dimensional.

A slightly different approach had to be taken if the tracing were to become a line drawing. It seems that the tracing paper was then put on a drawing board in front of the wall, and details added in pencil by hand, with constant comparison to the wall. While the paintings must have been made in front of the wall, inking was perhaps divided between the tomb, their dig house, and time spent between seasons in England. Areas of damage tended to be left blank in line drawings, and traces of sketches were not always recorded.

The publications rarely indicate which line drawings were produced by whom [Nina or Norman].”

Visual example(s)

Pl. VIII. Doorway to the Passage: Outer Side.

Pl. XI. Rekhmire’s Autobiography

Pl. XIII. Thutmose III Enthroned

Pl. V. Cretans Bringing Gifts of Metal and Jewelry (color facsimile from TT100, The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Pl. VII. Nubians with a Giraffe and a Monkey (color facsimile from TT100, The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Pl. XX. The Tribute of the Minoans and the Nubians

Pl. XVI. Brickmakers Getting Water from a Pool (color facsimile from TT100, The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Pl. XX. Deceased Being Towed in a Boat (color facsimile from TT100, The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

What we like

  • When Nina and Norman de Garis Davies began documenting Egyptian monuments, it was before the advent of color photography. Their aim therefore was to record the wall paintings on paper as faithfully as possible, both stylistically and in the condition they existed at the time. On the color facsimiles, Nina used the same hues of paint as the ancient artists, and even painted with brushstrokes imitating the original’s orientation and style. Her facsimiles are so realistic and of such an exquisite nature, that many details captured by the paintings are lost in photography. The damaged areas were rendered in an almost photographic quality. Even so, with the widespread use of color photography in documentation, the Davieses’ method of facsimile painting has largely been abandoned.
  • Their style in line drawing, however, has influenced many subsequent epigraphers and publications. Their drawings aim for visual clarity: the single-weight outlines of figures are uninterrupted by damaged areas, which are largely omitted within the figural representations. Basic reconstructions in dashed outlines are added to some of the drawings.
  • In representing texts, the damaged areas are shown with a texture fill or are encircled by single-weight outlines.
  • Many of the details captured in their facsimile drawings are now damaged or lost, therefore their extremely accurate representations provide a valuable source for today’s scholars and conservators alike in studying and restoring these monuments.

Additional reading

“The Tomb of Rekh-mi-re at Thebes” by Norman de Garis Davies (Publications of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Egyptian Expedition, v. 11, 1943) is available at the Digital Collection of the MET here and here;

“Paintings from the tomb of Rekh-mi-Rēʼ at Thebes” by Norman de Garis Davies; with plates in color from copies by Nina de Garis Davies and Charles K. Wilkinson (Publications of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Egyptian Expedition, v. 10, 1935) is also available at the Digital Collection of the MET here.

Nina de Garis Davies’s many works can be viewed at the MET’s website.

The section on Nina Davies’s documentation method was based on the essay Nina M. Davies (1881–1965) by Nigel Strudwick.

For a detailed description of the tomb of Rekhmire, visit Osirisnet.

Précis and commentary by Júlia Schmied

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