Brown mummy – 16th century paint made from crushed mummies

(ORDO NEWS) — Today, most people associate Egyptian mummies with museums. This is not surprising, because that is where most of us have probably seen them, especially in Europe. However, if I say that real mummies can be found in paintings, this may seem at least strange.

Until relatively recently, Egyptian mummies, believe it or not, were used to make paint called Mummy Brown, Mommia, or Momie.

The main ingredient in this paint was, you guessed it, crushed Egyptian mummies. This powder was mixed with white resin and myrrh to produce a rich brown pigment. It was first made in the 16th century and became popular among the Pre-Raphaelite artists of the mid-19th century.

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Kitchen L’interieur d’une by Martin Drölling

For example, the British portrait painter Sir William Beechey was recorded to have stockpiled Brown’s mummy. French artist Martin Drölling also allegedly used the “Mummy Brown”, made from the remains of French kings recovered from the royal abbey of Saint-Denis in Paris.

His painting “Kitchen Interior” is thought to be an example of the extensive use of this pigment, and Edward Burne-Jones’ mesmerizing painting “Arthur’s Last Sleep in Avalon” is also believed to have been painted using Brown’s mummy.

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An Egyptian mummy dealer selling his goods in 1870. How much potential knowledge have we lost due to the popularity of mummy brown pigment?

The use of this paint, however, became less popular in the early 20th century. This was partly due to the “realization” that the paint was actually made from real Egyptian mummies, as well as a growing awareness of the scientific, archaeological, anthropological and cultural importance that mummies had.

The reduction in the use of Mummy Brown paint has also been associated with a significant decrease in the number of mummies available.

For example, when artist Edward Burne-Jones found out what a mummy was actually made of, he went to his studio, took a tube of Mummy Brown paint, and insisted on giving her a proper burial there and then.

In 1964, Mummy Brown “died out” when C. Roberson & Co., a London-based fine art supplies firm, announced that they had “run out” of mummies to make their Mummy Brown paint.

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A tube of brown shilajit in a “coffin” that was probably originally made for an eel or a snake. Now in the collection of the Bolton Library in England

Art supplies weren’t the only use for crushed mummy bones. More surprising, perhaps, is their medical use. This was due to the belief that mummies contained bitumen, which was used by the ancient Greeks to treat various ailments.

Apparently, in the absence of real bitumen, the so-called mummy bitumen would have done just as well. It should be remembered that the word “mummy” itself comes from the Persian word for bitumen – “mum” or “mummy”.

As a result of this belief in the healing properties of mummy powder, Egyptian mummies were exported to Europe, crushed and sold in pharmacies across the continent.

Part of the fascination with mummy powder was due to the claim that mummies have a mysterious life force that is transferred to whoever swallows them. Therefore, crushed mummies were used by Europeans until the 18th century.

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Apothecary vessel with a mummy (mummy or mummy powder) from the collection of pharmacists in the Museums of the Hamburger states

Such a high demand for Egyptian mummies meant that a lot of money could be made from this trade. Not surprisingly, some have faked mummies to capitalize on this lucrative business or to meet the high demand. So, when real Egyptian mummies were in short supply, the corpses of convicted criminals were used instead.

This private enterprise meant that the bodies of executed criminals or slaves were treated with bitumen and exposed to the sun to produce authentic mummies, which were then sold to merchants. After grinding into powder, it was almost impossible to distinguish a real Egyptian mummy from a fresh corpse treated with bitumen.

Today, Caput Mortuum, which means “dead head” or “worthless remains”, is an alternative name for Mummy Brown and is produced by popular brands such as Faber Castell. However, you can be sure that no corpses are used in its production.

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