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Ancient Egyptian artists altered their creations, research reveals

Ancient Egyptian painters were more inventive than previously believed, a research released on Wednesday claims. Examples include delicately moving Ramses II’s sceptre or making little adjustments to a jewelry or headpiece. An multinational team of experts examined murals in the Valley of the Kings, which served as the royal tomb for pharaohs and other members of the ruling class in ancient Egypt, using new portable imaging and chemical analysis tools.

Egyptologists have up until now thought that the artwork in these tombs was highly traditional, following set guidelines and using predetermined designs that were painted on the walls.

However, Philippe Walter of the French center for scientific research, CNRS, a co-author of the study published in the PLOS One journal, said that a tiny robot moving in front of the painted walls utilized X-ray, ultraviolet, and infrared vision to “scrutinize” the art in detail, much like a medical scanner.

Around 1,200 years ago, a portrait of Ramses II was painted for the priest Nakhtamon’s tomb. The pharaoh is seen in profile, clutching a royal sceptre while wearing a necklace and a headpiece.

Image analysis, however, showed a distinct composition, which may have been an attempt to improve the original piece.

Walter stated, “We didn’t expect to see such modifications of a supposedly very formal representation of a pharaoh,” intended to be preserved throughout time.

Similar changes were discovered on the tomb of Menna, a nobleman who is shown with his arms outstretched toward Osiris, the deity of the dead.

Analysis revealed that the skin-coloring pigments had been altered, and one of the arms’ positions had been altered.

Although the timing and purpose of the modifications are unknown, scientists said that they provided proof of “freedom of creation.”

This “personal touch” was contrasted by Walter to the alterations made by “the great painters of the Renaissance,” who were shown as doing so.

If this technique is shown to be widespread, according to Philippe Martinez, the other co-author of the research with the CNRS, it will bring pharaonic art closer to our “modern aesthetic standards, nourished by Greco-Roman art.”

 

 

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