Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date


Faculty Sponsor

Darryl Butt


During the Coptic period in Fayum Egypt, encaustic (i.e. wax) mummy portraits were painted onto wooden panels or linen and attached to the mummy trappings of the deceased. One such portrait, “32.6: The Bearded Man” (c. 170-180 AD), features an unidentified Roman-Egyptian displaying a purple clavi. The trace swath of purple in the portrait provides evidence as to the origins of the painting and the identity of the man. Nanoscale analysis of the pigment suggests a red organic material was color shifted using a metal salt to produce a “poor man’s purple” as opposed to the expensive murex purple traditionally reserved for the elite.

It is the goal of this project to reverse engineer the pigment using organic material and metal salts available to the Roman-Egyptians in order to fabricate a purple pigment possessing a similar chemical composition to that within the portrait. Analytical comparisons of the original pigment to our synthesized specimens will allow the identification of the original materials used. Ultimately, our aim is to have an in depth understanding of materials and processes used to create the purple clavi, thereby providing further detail as to the provenience of “The Bearded Man” Fayum portrait.