Decorating the Tombs

The artists and workmen responsible for decorating the tombs used a variety of implements in wood, metal and stone in the different stages of the process.    
After cutting the tomb in the limestone bedrock, the walls were smoothed with copper and bronze chisels and the cracks filled with plaster. Then, a uniform layer of plaster was applied on the walls with plaster floats. When the surface was ready, a grid was traced on the walls by means of strings dipped in red paint. Then actual decoration began. The tools used to carve reliefs included bronze chisels, wooden mallets, and stone blades. Paint was applied with brushes made of vegetable material, like reeds and bundles of grass.    
For the ceiling decoration and decoration high on the walls, a scaffolding was mounted in the tomb.    
The most common colors used in decorating the tomb were red, yellow, green, blue, white and black. The pigments were derived from vegetable and mineral sources, the latter often coming from a nearby wadi known today by locals as the "Valley of Colors." [15884, 15885].     15884 15885
A popular belief is that the red pigment used by the Egyptians was red ochre, but this is incorrect. Ochre is yellow naturally and only turns red when burned or calcined. Ochre normally contains between ten to twenty percent iron oxide. The reds of the Egyptians contain more than fifty percent iron oxide, and its orange/red hue marks it as hematite.    
All of the yellows used in ancient Egypt were made of the native ochre, a clay stained with iron rust [15887].     15887
The pigment is composed of copper-bearing wollastonite, also called green frit.    
The Egyptian blues range from a light sky blue to a dark ultramarine. The principal blue pigment of ancient Egypt was an artificial frit consisting of a crystalline compound of silica, copper, and calcium [15897]. This was made by heating together silica and a copper compound (generally malachite).     15897
White pigments are among the earliest painting materials in use since the Predynastic Period. Calcium carbonate and calcium sulfate (gypsum) were the only two white pigments known.    
The black pigment was almost always carbon, obtained as soot probably scraped from the bottom of cooking vessels.    

Published or last modified on: August 23, 2002
Support TMP Contact TMP Mailing List TMP Publications User Guide Credits