Repainting the sarcophagus lid of Ramesses III

The picture below shows Ramesses III's sarcophagus lid on display in the Egyptian galleries in 1925.

The sarcophagus lid of Ramesses III on display in the museum in 1925

The lid was displayed lying flat until the galleries were refurbished in the 1960s. At that point, it was raised into its present upright position - a huge engineering feat! The floor in the galleries had to be specially reinforced to support the weight of the lid, so we decided to leave it where it was during the current refurbishment project.

The sarcophagus lid is not complete, and it has been restored at least twice in its lifetime. The picture from 1925 shows that missing areas from the sides have been replaced with concrete, but the feet have not been restored. These were added in the 1960s (also in concrete), when some further additions were also made to the inside of the lid. At this point, the restorations were painted to blend better with the surrounding granite.

   

The first thing that Lauren and Jessica did was to try removing some of the paint from the 1960s restoration. To our relief, this came off easily in acetone.

The sarcophagus lid is so big that Lauren and Jessica were not able to use their usual meticulous methods for cleaning and conserving paintings! Most of the paint was scraped off the restored areas with a chisel (see the picture below), and the more stubborn areas were cleaned with cotton wool soaked in acetone (right).

Jessica scraping away old paint from the feet of Ramesses III

Jessica removing old paint with cotton wool soaked in acetone

After Lauren and Jessica had filled several bags with cotton wool swabs, they finally finished taking all the old paint off the restored areas. This was the first time that any of us had seen what lay underneath, and it was very interesting to see the different stages of restoration which had taken place over the last 180 years.

'Tester' patches of paint on the side of the lid

   

The next stage was to decide on a colour for repainting the restorations. The granite from which the sarcophagus lid is made is very varied in colour, and includes shades of grey, pink and red. Some of the colours which Lauren and Jessica tried out can be seen on the picture to the left; they have painted small "tester" patches on the side of the lid.

Choosing a colour which blended well with the stone but was also unobtrusive proved quite difficult. Everybody in the Antiquities department seemed to prefer a different colour! The colour that was finally chosen is quite similar to the colour used in the 1960s, but it is slightly darker and more matte, giving a more subtle effect.

One of the restored areas on the front of the sarcophagus lid had already been painted to match the mottled granite. This area was left untouched because it was in a prominent part of the lid. It was decided not to copy this effect when painting the other restorations, however, because it would have taken much longer than painting them a single, flat colour. It is also usual nowadays to make a clearer distinction between original and restored areas on an object.

   

The pictures below and to the right show Lauren and Jessica painting the restored areas.

Most of the painting was done with a large roller but the more detailed areas had to be painted with a small brush. This took a lot of time but it meant that they did not put paint over the surface of the original object.

Lauren and Jessica also had to spend a lot of time up a ladder in order to reach the areas at the top of the lid!

Repainting the sarcophagus lid

Lauren painting from the top of a ladder

Close-up of Lauren painting

   

After a quick going over with the hoover, the sarcophagus lid is ready for display in the new galleries.

Jessica hoovering the finished sarcophagus lid

Lauren and Jessica standing by the finished sarcophagus lid

Author: Christina Rozeik
( hms12@cam.ac.uk)
Page updated: 06Feb2006


The Fitzwilliam Museum : Progress

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