Painted detail from the ceiling of Theban Tomb 65 representing a flock of ducks with their nests

Jul 9, 2020

Painted detail from the ceiling of Theban Tomb 65 representing a flock of ducks with their nests (tomb of Imiseba, transverse hall, the northeastern face of Sheikh' Abd el-Qurna hill, during Ramses IX)

Creating the facsimile copies of these exquisitely painted birds was a challenging task for many reasons. First, the physical hurdles: lying on one's back while holding one's hand in an awkward position was possible only for a short period of time. Attaching transparent paper to the ceiling was also tricky as the ceiling wouldn't hold the drawing for long, especially when taped to plaster damage.

Second, the painting itself contained such fine brushwork that it was hard to follow through the opaque calque layer. There were many faint layers of paint carefully applied on top of each other, starting with the preliminary sketches made with light red paint on the finished surface. Part of these sketches was incorporated into the final design (as seen on the heads and wingtips), while other areas got reinforced by dark red brush strokes (legs, underbellies, or eggs).

Further details painted in black appear throughout the entire composition, sometimes added as patterns executed by pressing the brush head to the surface. Unfortunately, ancient black paint tends to dissolve into the background, as was very much the case in Imiseba's tomb. Indicating the nuances of the ancient artist's impressionistic style in TT 65 was extremely hard to represent by a single layer of solid black India Ink.

Naturally, with today’s digital documentation techniques, one can easily overcome such technical difficulties. Nonetheless, by looking at this photo, one can easily understand why color facsimile was born out of necessity at the end of the 18th century.

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