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Preparation of the walls

In the course of studying the walls and the paintings, and making plans and copies of them, we have learned a lot about how the walls of the tomb were prepared for decoration. We assume that the ideal for a Theban tomb was for the decoration on the walls to be carved and painted, and that painting was used where the rock was just not good enough for carving. This rock surface thus had to be made ready for the painters.

if the rock was basically sound and the masons could carve a rough but flat surface, then it was normal to apply a coat of a slightly coarse lime plaster about 1-2 cm thick onto the rock, and on top place a thin coat (1-2 mm) of a higher quality plaster on which the paint could be applied. In some cases, the artists would actually carve into the plaster.

Wall 13 in TT99: area of under plaster smoothed by hand

Wall 7 in TT99: A-Rock, B-coarse under plaster, C-fine plaster

However, the rock in the Theban hills is rather inconsistent in its quality, and frequently the masons would encounter an area which was bad and could not be finished flat without further work. Various things were then done. Sometimes more coarse plaster would be applied, but if this was too deep in itself it would break up too easily. Hence, very commonly a mixture of plaster and flakes of stone which had been cut out of the rock would be applied to the wall, and this would provide a more reliable base for the paint. Large fissures in the rock were not uncommon, and these were filled with a mixture of larger stones and mud as well as plaster to produce a flat wall surface.

Build-up in TT99 ceilings: plaster and stones can be seen where the decoration has come off

Build-up in TT99, wall 3: large area of stones and plaster

This technique is the one most commonly applied in the larger 18th dynasty tombs in Sheikh Abdel Qurna. In some tombs of less elevated officials, the building up of the walls for the plaster used as the base of the decoration was mainly made of mud mixed with stones. This may have been a cheaper method.

It is difficult to indicate which of these methods has survived the best, as we cannot be sure how the walls were made in the very well-preserved tombs! It just seems that it worked in some tombs and not in others. In the case of Senneferi, much of this plaster has come off; this is not due to deliberate destruction, but just because it seems that the plaster did not always adhere well to the rock, and once some plaster started to come off, the damage 'crept' up the wall.

© Nigel Strudwick 1997-2014