Painting secrets revealed

A study just published by an interdisciplinary team from Belgium and France has revealed small changes and ‘touch-ups’ to paintings in Theban tombs, showing that images were often adapted and reworked during their execution, rather than created by means of a rigidly structured process.

The international team from the University of Liège preparing to analyse wall paintings in the Tomb of Nakhtamen (TT341 – on the left) and the Tomb of Menna (TT69 – right).

These faint traces are not visible to the naked eye: they are only visible by using new techniques involving non-destructive in situ chemical analysis and imaging, together with 3D reconstruction of images using photogrammetry and macrophotography.

One image in particular – a depiction of Ramesses II from the Tomb of Nakhtamen (TT341) – was found to have several modifications to the headdress, necklace, and sceptre, while analysis of a scene of adoration from the Tomb of Menna (TT69) revealed changes to the position and colouring of an arm. These changes may have been at the request of the tomb owner, or made by the artist as part of the creative process.

Analysis of a painting of Ramesses II in the Tomb of Nakhtamen (TT341) shows a series of changes made to the image: the red line shows the current outline, while the green line shows an earlier change, and the blue line marks the original outline.
Text: Sarah Griffiths / Images: Martinez et al. (2023) PLOS ONE; ULiège – David Strivay