Wall painting fragment from Deir el-Medina

Let’s take a closer look at another object undergoing conservation treatment In the Artifact Lab.

Wall painting fragment from Deir el-Medina, Egypt

This is a wall painting fragment from a tomb wall in Deir el-Medina, located near the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens. It dates to 1150 BCE. The painting substrate is a mud plaster mixed with straw, and the surface is painted to depict the standing figure of a diety in profile. At some point in the past, this fragment was set into a wood frame and encased in plaster.

The first step in the conservation process is to document the condition of the wall painting. Using Photoshop and a tablet computer, a condition map was created to highlight areas of loss, major breaks, and loose elements.

A basemap showing condition issues including major breaks and loose pieces (see key on right).

After recording its condition, I then started investigating the materials and methods used to mount and frame it. The wall painting fragment appears to be backed and surrounded with Plaster of Paris and set into a wood frame with beautiful dovetail joints.

Detail showing corner of frame with dovetail joints

At first, we thought that one option might be to leave it as is, but it was immediately evident that the plaster surrounding the painting was cracked and loose in areas. After prying some of the loose plaster away, I found that luckily, the plaster seen around the outside of the painting is only a thin skim coat layer, and that paper was used as a barrier layer in places between the painting and the plaster. I was hoping that it would be newspaper, providing clues as to when and where the framing occurred, but unfortunately, so far all I’ve found is plain paper.

Detail photographs showing bottom of painting with plaster skim coat partially removed (left) and fragments of paper and plaster removed from frame (right)

I did find one clue, however, hidden on the inside of the frame-a sticker reading “DOUANE  PARIS  CENTRAL”. There is a portion of an identical sticker on the back of the frame, but it is much harder to read. A Google search of these words led me to conclude that this might be a customs sticker. Why there would be a customs sticker on the inside of the frame is unclear, but from this evidence, as well as the fact that we know that this painting was purchased from Joseph Brummer, a dealer who ran galleries in Paris and New York, we can assume that this painting was mounted and framed before it was purchased by the museum in 1925.

We will continue examining and carrying out research on the wall painting fragment to understand its current condition problems, and also how we will approach stabilizing it for future display. We will provide updates as we work on this object!

- by Molly