Al-Ahram Weekly Online   31 July - 6 August 2003
Issue No. 649
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Remaking an aging beauty

By Nevine El-Aref

THE VIVID painted scene discovered in Nebamun's tmb at Thebes is undergoing a complex conservation process in the British museum in London.

Many of the most beautiful and historically significant Egyptian artefacts have long been housed in the British Museum. While the best-known is perhaps the 2000- year old Rosetta stone, there are hundreds of other ancient relics and objects of immeasurable aesthetic and academic value. Among those are 11 painted fragments depicting an extravagant scene of counting cattle and goose. These fragments, considered one of the great masterpieces of early Egyptian art, were originally part of a tomb painting in the vault of Nebamun (1390 BC), a top Pharaonic official during the New Kingdom. It came into the museum's possession in 1821 when the private collection of a British ambassador, Henry Salt (1780-1827) was bought after extensive haggling. Until only two years ago, the painted fragments were on display at the museum's great court. At that time, the British Museum decided to relocate the Nebamun painting to the conservation and scientific research department in order to fully examine and repair its surface before putting it into a new display case.

Richard Parkinson, an assistant keeper in the department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, said that from 1820s to 1930s the fragments were carefully mounted in plaster, but the evaporating water from the drying plaster caused some damage to the surface of the paintings. "At the conservation lab, the painting is under extensive documentation and analysis in order to draw a complete view of its current situation," Parkinson told Al- Ahram Weekly.

He explained that during the restoration process, conservators have been documenting new details of the paintings. Intricate gilding has been noticed on the eye of Nebamun's cat, while tracings of the fragments that were made before they were mounted have become apparent.

"Removing the plasters mounts has led us to a very important result," asserted Parkinson. For the first time, the artists' preliminary sketches on the carved tomb walls before the wall was even prepared for painting are visible. He said that after the completion of the conservation work, the fragments will be reassembled as much as possible into their original context. The display will then be placed at an inclined angle to simulate their original position on the ancient wall without allowing gravity to put too much stress on the delicate surfaces.

"We intend to recreate a sense of the original tomb in which the fragments were found in order to enable visitors, who did not visit Egypt, to experience touring inside an Ancient Egyptian tomb," said Par

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