Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 30 September 2020

Louvre Abu Dhabi joins global research project to analyse ancient mummy portraits

One of the portraits included in the project is part of the museum's permanent collection

'Funerary portrait of a man with a cup' from (225–50 CE), a Romano-Egyptian funerary portrait in the museum’s collection. Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi / AFP
'Funerary portrait of a man with a cup' from (225–50 CE), a Romano-Egyptian funerary portrait in the museum’s collection. Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi / AFP

Studying art sometimes needs a bit of science.

The Appear (Ancient Panel Paintings: Examination, Analysis and Research) Project, led by the J Paul Getty Museum in California, is one example of this type of research, which includes using C-ray technology to analyse paintings that survived the ancient world.

Louvre Abu Dhabi is the latest institution to join The Appear Project, which also has collaborations with the Louvre in Paris, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the British Museum and National Gallery in London, as well as the National Archaeological Museum in Athens and Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California. A total of 48 institutions are involved in the project.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, November 25, 2019. STORY BRIEF: Louvre AbuDhabi & APPEAR will be running an analysis of an artwork at the museum. Itwill done with an x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy. This allows them to seeelements on the surface of the outwork and understand pigments and techniquesused in paintings. -- Victor Besa / The National Section: NA Reporter: Alexandra Chaves
Louvre Abu Dhabi and New York University Abu Dhabi began working on the Appear Project, led by the J. Paul Getty Museum, in November. Victor Besa / The National

Launched in 2013, the Appear Project focuses on the analysis of Romano-Egyptian funerary portraits, which were painted on wooden boards and used to cover the faces of subjects after mummification. The use of the portraits began during Roman rule in Egypt and extended towards the 3rd century.

The portraits typically depict a single person, and the works were painted while the subjects were alive to be specifically used after their deaths. They bear personal details about the deceased, and their manner of dress and use of jewellery can also reveal their status in society.

Funerary portrait undergoes an x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, which allows researchers to analyse chemicals on the surface of the work and understand the use of pigments and techniques in the painting. Victor Besa / The National
Funerary portrait undergoes an X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy. Victor Besa / The National

About 1,000 mummy portraits exist today, though only a few have been able to be studied closely using advanced technology. The Appear Project hopes to change this over time.

As part of its scope, the project has begun analysis of Funerary portrait of a man with a cup, which is from Roman-ruled Egypt and dates back to 225-250 AD. Part of Louvre Abu Dhabi’s permanent collection, the funerary portrait shows a man holding a bejewelled cup and dressed in a Roman tunic.

'Funerary portrait of a man with a cup' from (225–50 CE), a Romano-Egyptian funerary portrait in the museum’s collection. Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi / AFP
'Funerary portrait of a man with a cup' from 225-250 AD. Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi / AFP

The analysis of the funerary portrait at Louvre Abu Dhabi began in November. The research team is comprised of the museum’s scientists, Elsa Bourguignon and Pablo Londero, along with academics from New York University Abu Dhabi, including Francesco Arneodo, co-director of the university’s Dhakira Centre for Heritage Studies, research scientist Adriano di Giovanni, and Rodrigo Torres Saavedra, a research assistant.

Using an X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer, researchers sought to identify chemical elements on the painting’s surface. With these findings, researchers hope to glean more information about the objects, including their origins and the process behind making them.

The scans also reveal which sections of the portrait may have been repainted or restored over time.

“Through this project, we seek to encourage scholarly studies, as well as contribute to international academic research,” said Souraya Noujaim, scientific, curatorial and collections management director at Louvre Abu Dhabi, in a statement. “The Appear Project speaks to the museum’s larger mission to be a platform for experimentation, and to offer significant academic insights into the artworks that have defined humanity,” she added.

As part of the Appear Project, Louvre Abu Dhabi's scientists and researchers from New York University Abu Dhabi are collaborating to analyse 'Funerary portrait of a man with a cup'. Victor Besa / The National
As part of the Appear Project, Louvre Abu Dhabi's scientists and researchers from New York University Abu Dhabi are collaborating to analyse 'Funerary portrait of a man with a cup'. Victor Besa / The National

After the analysis, the results will be added to Appear Project’s online database, which serves as a resource for scientists and researchers around the world. The first results of the findings will be published by the end of the year.

Updated: August 12, 2020 08:21 PM

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