Cleaning Questions and Cross-Sections

Julia Commander is a third-year graduate student in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. She is currently completing a curriculum internship at the Penn Museum.

The investigation of the painted Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure continues. Previously, I mentioned that I would be taking cross-section samples to gain a better understanding of the paint layers. This type of sampling involves taking tiny (less than 1 mm) flakes of paint to capture the stratigraphy. Once I have a slice showing all of the layers, I can look at the edge under magnification to observe the structure from surface down to ground level.

In this case, I took four samples from representative areas on the figure in order to compare the layers. Before sampling, I looked at each area under magnification and made notes about surface characteristics and conditions. To sample, I continued working under magnification with a fresh scalpel blade.

L-55-29, cross-section sample areas. You can also see the darkened appearance of the front surface.

As you can probably imagine, handling a tiny little paint flake can be tricky. To make observation possible, conservators embed cross-section samples within a mounting material, typically a clear resin. Mini ice cube trays are perfect for making small blocks of resin for this purpose. After embedding the sample between two resin pours, one face of the cube is polished to a glossy finish. The polishing process helps to get a clean cut of the sample from an edge-on perspective.

Mounting cross-sections with a clear polyester resin, molded in a mini ice cube tray. The cubes are then polished with Micro-Mesh cushioned abrasive cloths.

You never know exactly what your cross-section will end up looking like until it’s under the microscope. Flakes can shift while the resin cures or be affected by polishing, so it’s an exciting moment to see the results. Sample X2, below, shows a clear view of the layer structure. Similar to the way conservators use ultraviolet (UV) light during object examinations, cross-sections are often viewed with various light sources to show different properties. Here, you can see the sample in visible light and UV light (365 nm).

Sample X2, 100X total magnification, in visible light (right) and ultraviolet light (left). Samples were viewed on a Zeiss Axio Scope.A1 polarized light microscope.

We can see a few interesting features here. The sample area appeared to have predominantly red paint, although it was heavily obscured by the surface darkening. The uppermost layer of dark material could be related to a discrete layer of soiling or coating, or we could be seeing black paint. Since the front surface of the figure is intricately painted, it’s difficult to completely rule out paint as a possibility. Aged coating materials often fluoresce in UV light, which can help to distinguish them from underlying paint layers. In this case, we can see small flecks of fluorescence (indicated by the red arrows) but not a distinct fluorescent layer. We can also observe faint fluorescence in the ground layer, which is consistent with the idea of an aged animal glue binder.

Another sample, X4, came from an area of plain red paint without any adjacent black designs. This area was also affected by the surface darkening issue, although to a less severe extent. Here, instead of a discrete layer of dark material, we can see small specks above the red paint layer (indicated by the red arrows). These dark specks are most likely related to soiling or discolored coating and unlikely to be original applied paint.

Sample X4, 200X total magnification, visible light (right) and ultraviolet light (left). Samples were viewed on a Zeiss Axio Scope.A1 polarized light microscope.

The cross-section samples offered some insights into the multi-layered nature of the delicately painted surface. As with most analytical techniques, results lead to more questions than clear-cut answers. Luckily, my colleagues here in the lab got together to talk about this complex condition issue and offer different perspectives and approaches. To clean or not to clean the darkened layer? Clarifying the surface details would be helpful for interpretation, but an even more gentle cleaning system will be needed to avoid damage to paint layers. The consensus: further testing needed!

A Complete View and a Complete Treatment: Conservation of the Roman Period Mummy Mask

After using humidification and four extra hands, the mask is now unfolded! This complete view of the object provides us a wonderful opportunity to look at the materials used in construction and allowed treatment to finally move forward.

Before jumping into treatment, I had the opportunity to perform Multispectral Imaging (MSI) on the mask, allowing us to analyze some of the pigments non-destructively and with great results.

E2462. From left to right: Visible light, Ultraviolet illumination, Visible induced IR luminescence

E2462.
From left to right: Visible light, Ultraviolet illumination, Visible induced IR luminescence

Under ultraviolet illumination, a bright pink fluorescence was visible (middle), indicating the use of a madder lake pigment in the cheeks and to accentuate the face and hands. I also used visible induced IR luminescence to pinpoint the use of Egyptian Blue pigment in the crown, jewelry, and green leaves (right, Egyptian Blue highlighted in pink). This is a material commonly found in Roman period Egyptian artifacts.

In addition to finding out some of the materials used, I also completed full documentation of the object. Although some of the surface is still intact, the paint layer is in poor condition with areas of flaking and powdering. There is also a large loss to the textile along with some smaller tears and holes.

E2462 During treatment detail of flaking paint

E2462 During treatment detail of flaking paint

As my first order of business, the paint needed to be stabilized. This paint, like many other Egyptian painted surfaces, is sensitive to water and adhesives can cause staining and darkening. This meant a lot of testing was required to find the perfect adhesive for the job.

Using both testing panels and small, discrete areas of the surface, I tested adhesives until I found funori, a seaweed-based polysaccharide. This material preserved the matte and light tones of both the paint and ground layers.

Amaris Sturm, summer intern, consolidating surface of E2462

Amaris Sturm, summer intern, consolidating surface of E2462

As treatments usually go, you sometimes get unexpected bumps along the way. As I was consolidating I discovered that the flesh tones in the face and hands were significantly more sensitive to the water-based adhesive. I quickly had to rethink my approach, ultimately using a methyl cellulose in 50:50 ethanol: water for the hands, face, and larger flakes in the yellow framing the face.

Once consolidation was complete, I moved on to the next hurdle: the molded mud plaster mask. A large gap is present between the fragmented mud plaster crown and the textile below. To support the plaster and its mends, I made a removable fill of carved Volara foam and Japanese tissue, all toned with Golden acrylic paints to make the supports more discrete.

Removable fills to support the heavy mud plaster crown in E2462

Removable fills to support the heavy mud plaster crown in E2462

Fragmented, actively shifting, and detached mud plaster was mended with a 40% AYAT in acetone applied by brush and syringe. Unstable and weightbearing cracks and gaps were filled with a 25% AYAT in acetone that was bulked with microballoons and toned with dry pigments. Fill material was applied with syringed, shaped with a brush and wooden skewer, and  smoothed with a little bit of acetone. A thin toning layer of acrylic paint was applied to fills to make them a warmer tone, but still distinguishable from original material.

Filling compromised gaps on E2462

Filling compromised gaps on E2462

And with that, the treatment is complete! The mask is now stable and will be returned to storage safe and sound.

E2462 Before treatment (left) and After treatment (left)

E2462 Before treatment (left) and after treatment (right)

  • Amaris Sturm is a second-year graduate student in the Winterthur/ University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. She recently completed her summer internship in the Penn Museum’s conservation labs.

New Mask in the Lab

Amaris Sturm is a second-year graduate student in the Winterthur/ University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. She is currently completing a summer internship in the Penn Museum’s conservation labs.

I’m excited to introduce a new addition to the objects in the Artifact Lab! This Roman period Egyptian mummy mask and shroud, likely from 220 – 250 AD and excavated from Deir el-Bahri in the late 19th century, will be one of my primary treatment projects during my summer at the Penn Museum.

E2462- Overall before treatment

E2462- Overall before treatment

Meant to be placed over the upper body of a mummy, this mask is constructed of multiple pieces of coarsely woven linen sewn into a long shroud.  At the top of the shroud is a hollow, molded mud plaster mask in the form of a man’s face with a jeweled crown. The entire front surface has a white ground with colorful painted decoration. Additionally, gilding is present on fragments of the crown.

Sadly, the mask was folded at some point in its history, obscuring most of the linen shroud. Although there are no records of the complete decorated surface and little is known about the history of the mask in our collection, other similar examples from Deir el-Bahri give great insight into what may be hidden beneath the folds.

Comparable mask in the Louvre collection

Comparable mask from the Louvre collection

Comparable examples, including this mask from the Louvre, show the continuation of the man’s white tunic with a goblet in one hand and a plant stem in the other. A lower register is likely present containing Sokar, a falcon-headed god, on a boat and flanked by two jackals. One jackal is visible on an exposed corner of the Penn Museum’s mask.

E2462- Crown before treatment

E2462- Molded mud plaster crown before treatment

Apart from being folded, the mask has other condition issues that will be treated over the course of my summer internship. The textile support of the crown has sagged, causing the mud plaster to break and crumble. Additionally, the exposed painted surface is flaking and the linen fabric has started to tear and unravel.

I hope to start treatment in this coming week and unfold the shroud, allowing us to better understand the construction, decoration, and condition of this mummy mask. Check back to see what it revealed and for more on the mask’s treatment!

Sources:

Panel Portrait of a Man. Louvre Museum. Accessed June 25, 2016. http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/panel-portrait-man

Riggs, C. 2000. Roman Period Mummy Masks from Deir el-Bahri. From The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 86. Egypt Exploration Society. 121-144.

APPEAR Project – APPEAR Interim Meeting at the British Museum

Hi! This is Eve Mayberger with an update about the Ancient Panel Painting: Examination, Analysis, and Research (APPEAR) project. During the past few months, I have been investigating the three Fayum mummy portraits in the Penn Museum with digital photography, multispectral imaging (MSI), portable x-ray fluorescence (pXRF), x-ray radiography, and reflectance transformation imaging (RTI). A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to London and represent the Penn Museum at the APPEAR interim meeting.

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APPEAR Project, British Museum

The meeting was jointly organized by the Getty and the British Museum. Representatives from invited institutions were asked to present an update on the current research of Fayum mummy portraits in their collections. Although not every participating institution was able to send a representative, there were individuals from the United Kingdom, Europe, and the United States. The group included conservators, conservation scientists, art historians, and artists who were all personally engaged with different aspects of the APPEAR project.

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APPEAR Project, Presentation at the APPEAR interim meeting

For the APPEAR research at the Penn Museum, I talked about our non-destructive analysis, imaging, and outreach initiatives for the three portraits in the collection. I focused on some unusual observations I recorded with MSI on the Portrait of a Young Man (E16213). My presentation was well received and inspired a lively debate about MSI terminology and standardization protocols.

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APPEAR Project, Penn Museum Presentation

Between talks and over meals, I was able to chat with other APPEAR participants about their various institutions and current research initiatives. At the end of the meeting, the British Museum was kind enough to give us an extensive tour of their new conservation labs and scientific research department. It was an amazing experience and I was honored to present our research at the Penn Museum to the larger APPEAR community.

Eve Mayberger, Curriculum Intern

APPEAR Project – Reflectance Transformation Imaging of the Fayum Mummy Portraits

Hi! This is Eve Mayberger with more information about the Ancient Panel Painting: Examination, Analysis, and Research (APPEAR) project. During the past few months, I have been investigating the three Fayum mummy portraits in the Penn Museum with digital photography, multispectral imaging (MSI), portable x-ray fluorescence (pXRF), and x-ray radiography. Recently, I completed reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) on the portraits with the help of Aislinn Smalling (Leventis Foundation Fellow) and Archer Smith (archaeology post-baccalaureate student). I was grateful to have help because RTI data capture is much easier with multiple people.

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APPEAR Project, Capturing RTI data for E16214 with Aislinn Smalling and Archer Smith

RTI is a type of computational photography that uses digital computation instead of optical processes to create new data. The principles of RTI are that the object and camera are placed in fixed positions. The light source (we used a triggered flash) is moved around the object at different angles. To ensure that the flash is at a set distance from the object, we tied a string to the light. Black spheres are included in each photo and the exact light position is determined from the highlight on the reflective spheres. Normally there are between 36-60 images collected to create one RTI data set.

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APPEAR Project, Four (4) out of the forty-eight (48) photos taken for the RTI data set for E16213

The real power of this technique is the interactive RTI Viewer tool which allows the subject to be re-lighted from any direction. Different rending modes can be helpful to bring out certain surface details such as incised designs or impressions. It is important to remember that this technique is only “pseudo 3D” and while it can be very informative on surface characteristics, it is not scalable or measurable.

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APPEAR Project, Screenshot of RTI Viewer for E16213

The results for E16213 were particularly interesting because we were looking to see if the “curls” visible under MSI were visible with RTI. While RTI showed the working techniques characteristic of encaustic painting, no incised lines corresponding with the curls were detected. Perhaps the curls visible with MSI relate to a pigment that had faded to the point where it is no longer visible under normal light. One possibility is that it could be madder but more research is needed to confirm this hypothesis.

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APPEAR Project, Comparison of the curl region with MSI VIVL and RTI for E16213

In a few weeks, I will be presenting my research on the Penn Museum mummy portraits at the interim APPEAR meeting at the British Museum. Be sure to visit the blog in the upcoming weeks to read more about the APPEAR project and my experience in London!

Eve Mayberger, Curriculum Intern

APPEAR Project – X-Ray Radiography of the Fayum Mummy Portraits

Hi! This is Eve Mayberger with more information about the Ancient Panel Painting: Examination, Analysis, and Research (APPEAR) project. During the past few months, I have been investigating the three Fayum mummy portraits in the Penn Museum with digital photography, multispectral imaging (MSI), portable x-ray fluorescence (pXRF), and most recently x-ray radiography.

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APPEAR Project, Processing the x-ray radiographs

X-ray radiography is an incredibly useful technique to understand different materials, manufacturing techniques, later alterations, and condition issues. The x-ray radiograph of the Portrait of a Young Man (E16213) illustrates tool marks characteristic of the encaustic technique. The pigmented wax is worked warm and one can see the individual brush strokes. The background is made with a wide brush while the face is heavily worked with small tools to create the delicate shading in the flesh tones.

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APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Young Man (E16213); Digital photography; Digital x-ray radiography (36 kV 6mA 6s)

X-ray radiography can help record decorative elements that are difficult to see and documented under normal conditions. The gold frame around the Portrait of a Boy (E16212) is ornamented with raised decorations. The sheen of the gold and the later surface alterations make it difficult to see the overall design; however, the decoration is easily discernible on the x-ray radiograph. It is also interesting to note that the wood grain is visible.

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APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Boy (E16212); Digital photography; Digital x-ray radiography with annotation (36 kV 6mA 6s)

Sometimes x-ray radiography can show alterations to the surface or substrate. The Portrait of a Woman (E16214) shows that the artist decided to change the outline of the face. The annotated image highlights how the contours of the of the woman’s face was changed to give her a fuller cheek. Observe that the dark resin circle around the face is not visible in the x-ray radiograph. It is important to remember that not all materials (especially if they are of different densities) can be shown in a single radiographic image.

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APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Woman (E16214); Digital photography; Digital x-ray radiography with annotation (36 kV 6mA 6s)

Be sure to visit the blog in the upcoming weeks to read more about the APPEAR project!

Eve Mayberger, Curriculum Intern

APPEAR Project – Multispectral Imaging on the Fayum Mummy Portraits

Hi! This is Eve Mayberger with an update on the Ancient Panel Painting: Examination, Analysis, and Research (APPEAR) project (see earlier post here). I am happy to report that I have completed multispectral imaging (MSI) for the three Fayum mummy portraits. The In the Artifact Lab blog has talked about MSI in several previous posts here and here. MSI is a helpful technique that uses specific frequencies across the electromagnetic spectrum to differentiate and sometimes identify materials.

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APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Young Man (E16213)                                                                          Visible (VIS) image. Captured with a Nikon D5200, modified by replacing the hot mirror filter with a glass custom full spectrum filter, B+W UV-IR cut filter (#486 MRC), and incandescent photo light source

Although I took full sets of MSI images for all three mummy portraits, I am only going to share a few images of the Portrait of a Young Man (E16213) which proved particularly interesting. The first step of MSI imaging is to take a normal visible light photo using a modified digital camera and appropriate filters. The object and camera setup must remain unchanged throughout the entire process. Only the light source and camera filters change.

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APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Young Man (E16213)                                                                   Ultraviolet visible fluorescence (UVF). Captured with a Nikon D5200, modified by replacing the hot mirror filter with a glass custom full spectrum filter, B+W UV-IR cut filter (#486 MRC), and SPEX Mini CrimeScope 300-400 nm light source.

The ultraviolet visible fluorescence (UVF) image confirms that the wooden panel has been previously repaired. The restored area has a different fluorescence than the surrounding wood (see annotation). I had noticed that the paint in this area was handled differently and noted that it could be a later addition. The UVF image supports this idea.

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APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Young Man (E16213)                                                                         Visible-induced visible luminescence (VIVL) image. Captured with a Nikon D5200, modified by replacing the hot mirror filter with a glass custom full spectrum filter, B+W UV-IR cut filter (#486 MRC), Tiffen red camera filter (23A), and SPEX Mini CrimeScope 535 nm light source.

The most unexpected observation was seen in the visible-induced visible luminescence (VIVL) image captured with a 535 nm light source. The filter gives the image the overall red coloring. Notice that the outline of the figure has been etched into the paint. This demarcation of space was completely undetected under other light sources. This technique was not observed on the other two mummy portraits (E16212 and E16214) at the Penn Museum. I am curious to see if other institutions participating in the APPEAR project have portraits with hidden outlines around their figures.

Be sure to visit the blog in the upcoming weeks to read more about the APPEAR project!

Eve Mayberger, Curriculum Intern

APPEAR Project – Fayum Mummy Portraits

Hi! This is Eve Mayberger and I am a curriculum intern from New York University. I am currently spending nine months at the Penn Museum as part of my fourth-year internship. I want to introduce one of the projects I am working on in the Artifact Lab. The Ancient Panel Painting: Examination, Analysis, and Research (APPEAR) project is a Getty Institute initiative to create an international database on Fayum mummy portraits. A website was created to allow different types of analysis and imaging to be uploaded and shared with other institutions participating in the APPEAR project.

The Penn Museum has three Fayum mummy portraits in its collection [E16212, E16213, and E16214]. These portraits date from the Roman period in Egypt and were executed in either encaustic (wax) or tempera. The portraits depict a boy, a young man, and a woman. The figures are painted on thin panels of wood that are adhered together. Remember that wood was a rare and expensive material in ancient Egypt and every tiny piece of wood was valuable.

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APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Boy (E16212)

All three portraits have been repaired at some point in their history. One of my challenges is going to be to differentiate the original materials from later additions. Fortunately, the Penn Museum has the old treatment records that will hopefully be useful to piece together the treatment history of these objects.

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APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Young Man (E16213)

After carefully examining the portraits, I took them down the photography studio in the main conservation lab. These high-resolution photos will be uploaded to the APPEAR website. In the upcoming weeks, I will be using imaging and non-destructive analysis to further investigate these mummy portraits.

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APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Woman (E16214)

Be sure to visit the blog in the upcoming weeks to read more about APPEAR project!

Eve Mayberger, Curriculum Intern