By Dr. Basem Gehad, Restoration and Conservation professional at The Grand Egyptian Museum
Recent news questioning the authenticity of the “Meidum Geese” mural painting from the tomb of Atet, the wife of Nefer Maat, is shocking, however, as a painting specialist I can state that such decisions on a piece’s authenticity cannot be made based on an investigation by the naked eye alone.
The wall painting, representing a scene of six wild geese walking on the Nile shore, was discovered in the northern wall of the corridor leading to the chapel in 1871 by Monsieur Vigne, a merchant and amateur archeologist from Alexandria. Vigne had been granted permission by the Egyptian government for an excavation, which was planned to search for an animal necropolis, but instead discovered these unique fourth dynasty tombs.
His work was then continued by Auguste Mariette-Bey, and then Albert Daninos continued the work carefully after him; the chain of custody of work on the site is documented in a letter from Mariette-Bey himself to Daninos Dec. 21 1871, in which he gives instructions about the importance of documenting proper positions of artifacts.
The argument proposed by Prof. Francesco Tiradritti that Luigi Vassalli discovered the tomb is inaccurate; Vassalli began working on the site of the tomb in 1872, a year following its discovery. He had been working as a keeper of antiquities in Boulaq museum ( the predecessor to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo,) and his work had been supervised by Mariette-Bey himself.
I would say if Prof. Francesco Tiradritti would like to scientifically prove his hypothesis, he should by means of invasive analysis and investigations study these fragments scattered in different museums, and compare his results to the Cairo museum fragments. The high quality of the work could be compared to the fragment no. E5304 in Brussels’ Musees Royaux from the northern wall in the same tomb of Atet , which is located in the overall scene drawn by Petrie just over the scene of the “Meidum Geese.”
The analysis should highlight the type of pigments using elemental X-Ray fluorescence. The identification of the binding Meidum, using portable FTIR, is also of a high importance as this would be totally different from a painting Meidum used in the 19th century, and the understanding of the under drawings using multispectral imaging including Infrared imaging, U.V imaging as well as X- ray radiography. All these tools are easily available and completely safe for the paining.
According to contemporary accounts, the full painting was separated the wall and scattered among different museums around the world; Cairo’s Egyptian Museum downtown hosts two pieces, including the “Meidum Geese” and another part from the upper part of the wall registered under the catalogue number CG 1742 and CG 1743. Four other fragments are in the Boston museum of fine arts, two other fragments are in the British museum, one fragment in Brussels museum and one fragment in Manchester museum, while some remains of the paintings were left on the site.
From our side the pigments from the tomb were studied so we already knows the paintings palette as it had made analysis on related fragments to the tomb several years ago. These results could also be compared to the results, in case of that the painting is fake, the results of the pigments should be totally different from those used by ancient artist.
Back to the diary of the excavators , according to Daninos – Bey, the paintings of the corridor where intact in 1872, he mentioned in his diary that Vassalli removed the Meidum Geese, in Atet’s corridor with marvelous patience and care , which was then transported to the Boulaq museum, and kept there .
A contemporary diary of William John Loftie , an Irish antiquarian, contains a sketch by his niece that shows the painting precisely the same as we now view the original. Her sketch dates back to their visit in 1878 to the Boulaq Museum (just 7 years after the excavation.)
Another key piece of evidence is the documentation by Flinders Petrie, the famous British archeologist, who visited the site during the excavation of Mariette-Bey, then worked at the site nine years later, giving us a detailed sketch drawing for the northern wall of the corridor where the painting originated.
Descriptions of the operation indicate that Vassalli was very careful and interested to preserve the paintings, so why he would falsify a unique painting like this, which was documented by different visitors and archeologists , who saw it at the museum of Boulaq and not in Cairo Museum as Tiradritti mentions?
As Egyptians, we want like to find out the scientific truth by means of studies and investigations, in order to identify whether the hypothesis of Tiradritti is true.
The preceding opinion piece is the responsibility of its author and does not reflect the editorial policy of The Cairo Post