Color in QV66

Egyptian history

I am melting here in Luxor, Egypt! Today was a constant 104 degrees, even in the morning, but I am so overwhelmed by the beauty of what I’m seeing that it’s actually OK!  Today our Egyptologist guide took us to the Valley of the Kings early in the morning to explore tombs made in the mountain at the base of the eastern Sahara desert.  We saw King Tut’s mummy-could even see his teeth, ears and lips, and so many other amazing sites.  There’s too much history of Ancient Egypt to even try to touch on, but I want to share with you what was dominating my thoughts most of the day.  I was in my own visual world of color.

QV66 is the tomb of Nefertari, and is perhaps the best preserved tomb.  First of all, walking in a tomb is like no other experience I’ve ever had.  You are basically just walking into a mountain’s base and going down down down until you reach an elaborate chamber.  It’s like a whole apartment! The color in this tomb is vibrant which is almost hard to even absorb given how ancient this is, and is absolutely breathtaking.  Hieroglyphs and paintings depicting her journey to the after life are found on almost every available surface in the tomb, including thousands of stars painted on the ceiling of the burial chamber on a blue background to represent the sky.  In the other tombs we visited the ceiling had faded and all that remains are the stars in white on the natural faded stone.  Why?  White lasted because it was made from limestone and is not affected by water.  

The blue undulated from a deep midnight almost black to a lighter more turquoise hue.  Apparently blue was the most prestigious of all colors as it was made from the most expensive minerals, lapis and turquoise.  All of the colors were saturated and bright.  The yellow was mixed from oxides and egg yolk.  I could even see the brush strokes!   The palette of these colors which are all derived from minerals was natural and worked together harmoniously.  I was told that the colors were made by putting the rocks with some natural oils, animal fats and grinding them to obtain the pigment.  Can you imagine?   In order to preserve the color on the wall, they would paint three layers, and then apply beeswax to help protect it.  It certainly worked, as you can see from the photos.  Absolutely brilliant striking color which dates back to her death in 1334 BC!  Actually, it’s even older as they prepared her tomb while she was still living.  

 The other tombs we saw, where the color had faded, were equally beautiful.  All of the palettes just worked together perfectly!  I’m in awe and inspired, and this is one of those times where I wish my medium was still textiles so I could create a palette, but maybe I’ll just do this in metal.   Stay tuned….