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The Search for Egyptian Blue

Research Open House 2021

Eleonora Del Federico
Katelin Fallon, MS HAD ‘13
Adelaide Steinfeld, BFA HAD ‘20
Yesenia Valle Mora, BFA HAD ‘20
Sze Nga Wong, BID ‘20
Dr. Paolo Tomassini University of Louvain
School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Mathematics and Science

infrared image of wall painting next to the regularly lit wall painting
Left: Infrared luminescence photograph of the painting showing the presence of Egyptian blue, invisible to the bare eye, on the geometrical areas and on the theatrical mask Right: wall painting at the temple of the Good Goddess, dating to the 1st century BCE.

Egyptian Blue is the oldest synthetic blue pigment first prepared by the ancient Egyptians around 2800 BCE. Its use became widespread as the main blue in ancient Mediterranean art but mysteriously disappeared during the 3rd century CE.

The questions of exactly how and when Egyptian blue vanished are still unanswered, and they are the motivation of this research.

four researchers stand around an ancient wall
Archeologist Paolo Tomassini indicating sites for pigment analysis at the House of the Gardens, Ostia Antica

Our quest takes us to perform pigment analysis of wall paintings of different time periods and styles at Ostia Antica, a matchless site for this investigation, as its history expands fourteen centuries from the 5th c. BCE to the 9th c. CE.