Investigating the use of Egyptian blue in Roman Egyptian portraits and panels from Tebtunis, Egypt

Monica Ganio, Johanna Salvant, Jane Williams, Lynn Lee, Oliver Strides Cossairt, Marc Sebastian Walton*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


The use of the pigment Egyptian blue is investigated on a corpus of fifteen mummy portraits and Roman-period paintings from Tebtunis, Egypt, housed in the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. Egyptian blue has a strong luminescence response in the near infrared that can be exploited to created wide-field images noninvasively showing the distribution of the pigment on a work of art. A growing body of publications in the last decade highlights the increasing use of this tool and its sensitive detection limits. However, the technique is not wavelength specific. Both excitation and emission occur in a broad range. Although Egyptian blue has a strong emission in the NIR, a myriad of other compounds may emit light in this spectral region when excited in the visible. The limited number of studies including complementary analysis to verify the presence of Egyptian blue does not allow its identification on the basis of NIR luminescence alone. Through the use of in situ X-ray fluorescence and X-ray diffraction, and scanning electron microscopy/energy-dispersive spectroscopy of cross sections, this paper confirms the identification of Egyptian blue by NIR luminescence in unexpected areas, i.e., those not blue in appearance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)813-821
Number of pages9
JournalApplied Physics A: Materials Science and Processing
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 14 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Materials Science


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