Colours of ancient Egypt

Painting the zodiac

Colourful ceiling paintings including the signs of the zodiac have been revealed at the temple of Esna in Egypt. Executed in relief, the images also depict planets and other constellations, snakes, crocodiles, and hybrid creatures such as a four-winged bird with a crocodile’s head and snake’s tail. An Egyptian restoration team led by Ahmed Emam has recoloured the paintings, which were preserved by layers of dirt and soot.

‘Representations of the zodiac are very rare in Egyptian temples’, said Christian Leitz, from the University of Tübingen and one of the directors of the Esna project with Hisham El-Leithy (Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities). The zodiac, introduced to Egypt from Babylonian astronomy in the Ptolemaic period, was more frequently used in private tombs, sarcophagi, and astronomical texts.

Riley in Rome

In May, the British School at Rome unveiled Verve, a new ceiling painting by British artist Bridget Riley (above). Riley’s first wall painting (for the Royal Liverpool University Hospital in 1983) was inspired by her 1979-1980 trip to Egypt, where she saw the pyramids and tombs, like the Tombs of the Nobles at Luxor. Since then, wall painting has been an important part of her work, but the foyer of the research centre in Rome (which also supports contemporary artists with, for example, a fellowship endowed by Riley) is her first ceiling. In Verve, Riley has used her ‘Egyptian palette’ to fill the barrel-vaulted ceiling with bands of bright colour.

Visitors can see Verve on monthly tours of the BSR ( or during its public events.

Image: Antonio Masiello/Getty Images