Documenting and Reconstructing the Late Roman Murals in the Roman Vestibule at Luxor Temple

Jan 22, 2021

Many centuries have passed since the Roman occupation of Luxor Temple, however, the remains of the frescoes are unmistakable reminders of how the tetrarchic renovations gave new meanings to Luxor Temple. As the temple fell out of use and became a ruin, changes began that ultimately led to the condition in which the frescoes were found when the room was excavated in the nineteenth century.

Many travelers passed by after the French excavation removed most of the debris in the room, taking photographs and painting sketches of the Roman and pharaonic ruins. Famous among them is a series of watercolor sketches, created around 1954 by John Gardner Wilkinson, giving the most complete and vivid description of the frescoes as they appeared not long after being uncovered.

Unfortunately, these murals are now in a very fragmentary condition, due to continuous abuse and to the lack of interest in non-Pharaonic remains typical of the last century. Today, most of the Late Roman paintings in the chamber are lost, and their remains are exposed to pollution and to the effects of thousands of birds visiting the monument each day.

After years of being exposed, the brightest chapter in the frescoes’ recent history was due to the collaborative work between the American Research Center in Egypt, the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, the Epigraphic Survey of the Oriental Institute and a team of Italian wall painting conservators, directed by the late Luigi De Cesaris, who thoroughly cleaned and conserved the remaining murals.

The culmination of this landmark conservation project became the volume Art of Empire, published in 2015, providing a comprehensive look at the frescos and their architectural, archaeological, and historical contexts.

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