Decorating the Tombs

Preliminary Layout
Once tomb walls had been carved and smoothed, a layer of lime plaster of varying thickness was applied as a final surface. Specialists known as "outline draughtsmen," probably working from some sort of copybook, laid out the actual decoration. Because some royal tombs were left unfinished (KV 14, KV 15, KV 17, KV 57) we are able to follow this decorative process. One of the best examples of such an unfinished tomb is KV 57, the tomb of Horemheb, where several stages of the work are preserved in the burial chamber. It seems that several different activities were simultaneously carried out in different parts of the chamber or even different parts of a wall. Some workmen might have been smoothing a wall while artists were painting another.    
The first step in the decorative process was to mark registers with horizontal and vertical lines, and boundaries for texts. A grid for the general proportions of figures was laid down [15547, 15556]. A series of preliminary or first draft drawings were made, usually in red ink, overlaid by the final, corrected version in black [13738, 13737, 15488].     15547 15556 13738 13737 15488
Relief Carving
An innovation in royal tomb decoration technique, first found in KV 57, although long used in private tombs, was to carve figures and texts in either sunk or raised relief. Carving raised relief was the more time-consuming process and involved cutting away the surface surrounding the figure or text so that the figure was raised above the background [16241]. Details, such as modeling of musculature or features of costume, then could be carved on this raised surface. Raised relief was most often used where the quality of stone was good and the surface needed little or no patching. Sunk relief began to be used regularly from the reign of Merenptah (KV 8) onward [16327].     16241 16327
Once the figures were carved, the final step was to paint them. If time was short, walls could be decorated with flat, painted figures and texts, applied either directly to the wall or to its plastered surface. This technique was the preferred one in earlier royal tombs [13797] and was prevalent in private tombs of the New Kingdom.     13797
After the preliminary layout was done, the artists filled in the outlined figures with red for flesh parts, white for clothing, and black for hair, using thick strokes along the inside edge of the outline and filling the interior with a preliminary coat of white paint, to be filled in with other colors later. They then added background color around figures. Finally, they added details in black as well as text and other colors on the red and white parts of figures. A good example of this process can be seen in burial chamber J of KV 57 [13775]. In KV 15, only red and yellow paint had been applied [13525].     13775 13525
The intended final form of the decoration of burial chamber J in KV 57 can be ascertained by the finished decoration in well chamber E and chamber I. There, painted raised relief figures and texts on a blue background show the king being received by deities in the netherworld [14728]. The ceiling is decorated with a grid work of yellow five-pointed stars on a dark blue or black background symbolizing the night sky.     14728

Published or last modified on: August 23, 2002
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