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Mummified Egyptian woman in the portrait was mapped in the smallest detail

The original Egyptian painting (left) next to photos made with the help of hyperspectral reflection, to see and X-ray fluorescence.

(National Gallery of Art (left); National Gallery of Art/UCLA)

More than 1800 years ago, an artist in ancient Egypt and paints the portrait of a big-eyed woman wearing a red tunic — a painting of the woman is dead, mummified body.

The identity of the mysterious lady in red may never be known. But thanks to a new, non-invasive technique, scientists have discovered the materials and methods that the artist uses to capture the woman’s likeness in unprecedented detail. Even on the special spoon used to paint her hair, and the order in which each type of paint has been applied.

“Without even taking a minute example of the painting, we have mapped the detailed information that tells us exactly what materials were used, and how they had prepared for,” study senior author Ioanna Kakoulli, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), said in a statement. “We were also able to link their production technology to other old ‘industries and practices, such as mining, metallurgy, pottery, painting, pharmacopeia and alchemy.” [11 Hidden Secrets in Famous Works of Art]

Called macroscale multi-modal chemical imaging, this new method combines three advanced imaging techniques. The technique ” will revolutionize the way important and irreplaceable archaeological materials can be analysed and interpreted,” Kakoulli said.

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The approach consists of three well-known practices: hyperspectral diffuse reflectance (the study of the reflection of light and other waves of a surface), luminescence (emission of light) and X-ray fluorescence (identifying chemical substances in a sample using the X-rays that reflect off an object), according to the study, published online Nov. 14 in the journal Scientific Reports.

The researchers used the technique to analyze this second-century female portrait, known as a Fayum mummy portrait — painting on a wooden plate, placed on a mummy which probably gives the deceased person.

An analysis of the 13.7-inch and 4.7-inch portrait, housed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C., reveals the molecular composition of the paint, as well as the material that is used for binding the paint: a mixture of beeswax and pigment, the researchers found.

For example, the woman in the portrait was probably painted with three different instruments: a fine paint brush or penicillus; a metal spoon or a hollowed spatula known as a cauterium; and the engraver, which is known as a cestrum, the researchers wrote in the study.

They also discovered how it could have been trendy and artistic popular at the time that the painting was made.

“The design of her dress is an excellent example of the craftsmanship in real life is reflected in the painting,” study co-author Roxanne Radpour, a phd student in the Materials Science and Engineering Department at UCLA, said in the statement. “Madder [red] dye extracted from the roots was often used to color textiles and leather in ancient Egypt, and we see from the chemical mapping of the portrait that the artist chose for the painting of the sovereign of the dress with madder lake pigment, so the imitate modern practices.”

The new technique may also have applications in the environmental, geological, biological and forensic sciences, the researchers said.

Original article on Live Science.

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