Cartonnage: Fragments of a Mummy Wrapping (Part II)

By using examination techniques that do not damage the object, it is possible to characterize many of the materials that were used to create this cartonnage. Now that conservators know more about these materials, it is possible to make recommendations about how best to store this object so that it will not continue to deteriorate. The fragment will be placed in a closed container to protect the fragile surface from accidental damage and the Egyptian blue from exposure to the air. It will be kept in the dark or in low light to protect the orpiment.

Fragment of mummy cartonnage with a seated jackal-headed god.  Egyptian, 6th-1st century B.C.E. 3 1/4 x 5 13/16 inches.  Gift of Ms. Devera Glazer-Schoenberg, Walters Art Museum 78.5.
Fragment of mummy cartonnage with a seated jackal-headed god. Egyptian, 6th-1st century B.C.E.
3 1/4 x 5 13/16 inches. Gift of Ms. Devera Glazer-Schoenberg, Walters Art Museum 78.5.

The blue background of this cartonnage fragment appears very dark when viewed under normal conditions, but under the microscope, a brighter blue color can be seen underneath.  This blue resembles Egyptian blue, a synthetic pigment made by heating a combination of copper, white sand, chalk and a sodium salt such as natron.  The result is a solid, glassy material that can be used to make whole objects, such as this small covered jar in the Walters Art Museum.

Egyptian blue amphora with cover.  Egyptian, 1380-1300 B.C.E.4 15/16 x 4 inches.  Walters Art Museum 47.1
Egyptian blue amphora with cover. Egyptian, 1380-1300 B.C.E.
4 15/16 x 4 inches. Walters Art Museum 47.1

Egyptian blue can also be ground up as a pigment and used to paint.  When it is first applied, it appears brilliant blue, but over time the pigment oxidizes as it is exposed to air, and becomes darker.

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