Mummy - something to send shivers down the spine....


I recently strolled into a second-hand bookstore and came across a book entitled “Artists’ Pigments c. 1650-1835” by R.D. Harley. It looked like an excellent reference for the trials and tribulations of a violin maker and I promptly bought it. I would like to share with you a section from this book that is probably worthless from a violin making point of view … on second thought, we are dealing with a craft where terms like dragon’s blood, cat gut, tail-hair of Mongolian mare are not uncommon.

Just a friendly word of warning: if you are squeamish or easily offended, don’t read further.

I said, don’t read further!

Oh well, I warned you. I’m quoting:

“Mummified bodies imported from Egypt were used medicinally during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Pieces of mummy were made up into a drug which was taken internally , and, as was the case with many drugs, the raw material was also tried out as a pigment”

I warned you…

“Mummy was black in appearance but transparent brown when used as an artists’ colour, its properties being somewhat similar to asphaltum. Haydocke lists mummia as a shading colour for flesh tones….”

Flesh tones?

“A colour sample is included in Field’s ‘Practical Journal 1809’ with the following entry: ‘Mummy, Egyptian, from Sir William Beechey, in a mass, containing and permeating rib-bone etc. – of a strong smell resembling Garlic and Ammonia – grinds easily – works rather pasty – unaffected by damp and foul air – somewhat weakened by long continuance in the Sun.’

Strong smell? Foul air?

Note to self: Here is another idea to get that perfect brown tint for my next violin. Can probably be home-made. Must speak to wife…

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