National Geographic : 1941 Oct
Preparation of a Painted Tomb-chapel-The Egyptian Artistand His Methods A T-SHAPED tomb-chapel, hewn out of the side of a hill in the Theban necropolis, is nearing completion. The rock-cut walls of the forehall of the chapel have been given a thick coating of plaster and, being now ready to receive their decoration, have been turned over to a learned scribe and his staff of painters and draughtsmen. The latter are engaged in transferring to the walls a series of scenes and inscriptions, already planned and drawn up at small scale on flakes of limestone. To insure accurate en largements of the original drawings and to maintain the strict canon of proportions, under which the Egyptian artist always worked, proportion squares are laid out on both the sketches and the walls, the lines which form the squares being "snapped" on by means of a cord coated with red pigment. The man marking off the spacing of the lines is using a measuring rod, one royal cubit (20.6 inches) in length, divided into 7 "palms" of 4 "digits" each. On the squared "grid" so prepared there is made a full-size preliminary sketch in red outline and, over this, the finished drawing in black outline, a fine reed brush being used to lay in both drawings. In coloring the drawings, the inscriptions, the borders, and the backgrounds, the painters will use blue, red, yellow, and green pigments, ground to powder on the spot and mixed with beeswax, albumin, gum, or a similar vehicle. Their paint brushes are palm sticks with carefully frayed ends, or bundles of grass lashed tightly together with grass cord. Meanwhile the excavation ofthelongitudinal passage of the chapel is progressing rapidly. The stream oflimestone chip, falling from the heavy bronze chisels ofthestone cutters, is being run out ofthe tomb byanendless line of basket-boys; and already theplasterers areatwork, smooth ing over the walls at the forward end ofthepassage. Presid ing over all this part of thework isthegang foreman, armed with his symbol of office-a heavy whip, impressive and formidable in appearance, but probably rarely used. Many tombs at Thebesand elsewhere were pressed into service while their decoration and often even their excava tion was in an unfinished state. Such tombs have provided the modern student with invaluable information astothe methods used. This information hasbeen swelled bythe discovery near several tombs ofthework records and other memoranda, written downday byday onpotsherds and flakes of limestone by the scribes incharge ofthework. Discarded by the ancient writers assoon asthey had served their purpose, these short notes give usavivid picture of the daily progress of thework, ofthenumber and types of artisans employed, of the materials, food, and clothing supplied to the gangs, and ofthe amusing small details which cropped up during the course ofthejob.