This ancient Egyptian cartonnage funerary mask (L-55-289*) from the late Roman Period came into the conservation lab for treatment as part of the 2021-2022 curriculum internship in the conservation lab. It arrived on a backing board that was not adequately supporting the three-dimensional shape of the piece. The back of the head was the most damaged, and where I did most of the treatment work. I began the treatment by building a mount to support the mask from the front so I could remove the backing board and perform most of the treatment from behind.
*L-55-289 is a loan object from the Philadelphia Museum of Art
I toned Japanese paper using Golden Fluid Acrylics for mending the piece. I applied this paper across almost the entirety of the back of the head using 5% methylcellulose as an adhesive. The mends were applied in pieces: first to re-enforce the linen that remained attached to the mask, then to re-attach fragments back onto the mask. I used Volara and soft tipped clamps to support and maintain the shape as the piece dried.
Once the mask re-gained dimensionality in the back, a new mount was required to adequately support it. I sculped a new mount in two pieces so it could be removed from the object if necessary. The two-piece mount is made of WoodEpox and Ethafoam with wooden skewers to hold the pieces together.
Furthermore, this new storage mount was necessary to hold the piece upright. The piece looks so much better now that the head has been re-formed.
As an intern working with the conservation department, I have received the opportunity to work on many projects and experience things I never thought I would. Recently I have been working on this software called Reality Capture using photogrammetry. Photogrammetry is a process that uses an abundance of photographs to create a 3D model without any distortion from many overlapping images stitched together to form a detailed and geometrically corrected image called an orthomosaic. This process is usually used on larger objects, and this is because it’s too big to be in frame when taking pictures and has a lower quality with distortion which is far from perfect, and Christy Ching explains more in depth about this in her previous blog post.
I want to show how to create a digital three-dimensional model using the software, Reality Capture, and I’ll demonstrate with an example of the after-treatment photos of an Egyptian coffin.
To start off with, having pictures of the object is a must. For this example, they were already taken and edited in Photoshop, to adjust the white balance using adobe bridge ahead of time. Then I begin by opening the software and then under workflow at the top left corner, I select “inputs.”
Then I select all the images making sure that they were a .jpeg file and then I click on “Align Images” as highlighted above. After the images are aligned, a transparent box surrounding the coffin appears. I adjust the box by dragging the control points around to make it as small as possible without cutting off any part of the coffin. As you can see in the image below, using E883C, the box is close to the coffin but does not intercept the coffin itself.
Now for the fun part to see the coffin take shape, I click next to “Calculate Model” to select “Preview Quality” as highlighted below. Then I go to the tools bar to use the lasso option to erase all the unnecessary space around the coffin. Then after being satisfied with selected area, I click on “Filter Selection,” which turns the selected areas from orange to dark blue showing that it worked.
Finally, I go back to the Workflow bar to select “Texture” which is highlighted below and then it shows all the details of the 3D model without any distortion in high detail and quality.
by Tessa de Alarcon with images by Alexis North, Molly Gleeson, and Christy Ching
We recently de-installed two stone sarcophagi from Egypt from the upper Egypt gallery at the Museum: E15415 and E16133. These pieces are slated for reinstall in the new Egyptian and Nubia Galleries and will likely need extensive treatment before they go back on display. This is why they have come off display, so that we can assess their condition and evaluate what needs to be done for the new gallery. For both pieces, we need to check the stability of the previous treatments. Both have previous joins and fills that were done before the formation of the conservation department. This means that we have no records for when these treatments were done or the materials that were used to reconstruct the stone and fill the losses.
In the case of E15415, this meant we needed to see the underside. We brought in Harry Gordon, a sculptor and professional rigger, to build a wooden cradle or cribbing and then lift the piece and flip it so we could see the joins and fills from the other side.
When we flipped the object over and took the plinth it had been sitting on off, we found an additional puzzle. The piece has had a plexiglass vitrine over it for quite many years to protect it while on display. However, that has not always been the case, it used to be uncovered in the gallery. It seems that prior to the placement of the vitrine some visitors took advantage of the small gap between the stone and the wooden plinth below it to slide things under the object.
In a way, this has made this object a sort of time capsule. We found a number of things that had been hidden under the sarcophagus including a coupon for Secret deodorant (worth 5 cents), a program for the Graduation Exercises for the University of Pennsylvania Oral Hygiene Class of 1967, a museum map from the when the museum was called The University Museum, a votive candle donation envelope for the church of St. John the Evangelist Sacred Heart Shrine, a scrap of paper with dishes on it, and two black and white photographs. While some of these things are easily identifiable, like the program and the coupon others are more of a mystery.
I personally find the photos the most interesting. They look like shots perhaps from a photo booth. This is based on their size and format and that each has a torn edge (one at the top and the other at the bottom) suggesting that they may have been part of a longer whole or strip of images. Who is the subject in each image? Were the photos discarded because the owner or owners didn’t like them? Were they taken at an event or party at the Museum? Were the photos captured at the same event or in the same photo booth (if they are indeed from a photo booth)? They are similar in size and format, but that doesn’t mean they relate to one another. Were they taken somewhere else and discarded during a visit to the Museum? I have only questions and no answers, but my hope is that by sharing these images maybe someone reading this will know or recognize them and be willing to tell us more.