By Barbara A. Boczar. Published in Egyptological Journal Articles, Edition 6, on 3rd October 2012
The discussion of colour within any culture is complex, encompassing many broad themes and topics around the aspects of colour, including, for example, the perception of colour, colour terminology, colour symbolism, the use of colour in artistic and non-artistic endeavours, and the types and composition of the materials that produce the colours (see: Jones and MacGregor 2002, pp.1-3; El Goresy 2000, pp.49-51; Baines 1985, pp.289-292). It is posited that because of the basic neurophysiological properties of the human eye, most humans biologically perceive colour in the same ways (Jones and MacGregor 2002, p.6); however genetic differences in each population, such as colour blindness, can modify this perception. The ways that different cultures express colour, either materially or linguistically, can vary from culture to culture, can vary with the material and symbolic complexity of the social and cultural environment and can vary over time (see Baines 1985, pp.289-292; Berlin and Kay 1969, p.16; Scarre 2002, p.230). This variation also could, of course, reflect in some way rare or not so rare genetic differences in populations, such as colour blindness. One well-known, if not universally accepted, attempt to understand variations across cultures and time was made in 1969 by Berlin and Kay who proposed a scheme for the development of colour terms in a culture that depended on between two and eleven “basic” colour terms, whereby an increase in the number of colour terms in a language potentially correlated with increased cultural complexity, or cultural evolution (evolutionary Stages I (red and black) through VII (eight to eleven terms)) (Berlin and Kay 1969, pp.14-35,104).
Colour played an essential role in the artistic, symbolic and cultic aspects of ancient Egyptian life: it was an important part of an object or person; it could provide symbolic meaning; and it was an integral part of artistic representations such as jewellery, painted materials, dyed materials such as linen, and pottery (Davies 2001, p.xiii-xiv; David 1998, pp.308,309; Lee and Quirke 2000, pp.117-119 ). Colour was a particularly important part of ancient Egyptian painted media and was used on a range of artistic supports, including plastered walls, stone sculptures and reliefs, wooden coffins, papyrus manuscripts, and others. (Davies 2001, pp.xiii-xv; Lee and Quirke 2000, pp.117,119). Colour terms were used in texts from at least the Old Kingdom ( Baines 1985, p.283). Baines (1985) reviewed the progression of colour palettes and colour terms in ancient Egypt and proposed that colour palettes used in the Old Kingdom through the New Kingdom correlated with the Berlin and Kay evolutionary scheme for colour terms evolving from, “Stage V” in the Old Kingdom (black, white, red, green, yellow, blue) through “Stage VI in the Middle Kingdom (black, white, red, green, yellow, blue, brown) to a partial “Stage VII” in the New Kingdom (black, white, red, green, yellow, blue, brown, grey, pink and others), while colour terminology remained static at a “Stage III” (black, white, red, green) during those periods (Baines 1985, p.283-289). Caution in this interpretation is required, however, because the colour palette for paints and glazes may have been constrained by resources and the true colour palette in, for instance, jewellery may have been somewhat broader.
This paper discusses three colour aspects in ancient Egypt during the time period of the Old (ca.2584-2117 B.C.), Middle (ca.2066-1650 B.C.) and New Kingdoms (ca.1549-1069 B.C.) (dates according to Dodson 2004, pp.287-291): the two aspects of colour, colour palettes used in painted artistic representation, with, here, specific attention to the colour palettes used in wall paintings and painted reliefs, and colour terminology, discussed in Baines (1985) and a third aspect, the materials used to create pigments for paint. The paper follows each of these aspects through the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms, and then discusses the potential relationships among these colour aspects. Because of the complexity of this subject, and on-going revision of research conclusions in this area, this paper provides a broad view of on this topic. Other aspects of colour, such as a specific attention to hieroglyphics, textile media and dyes, the effects of varnish or binding media on colour, and other topics or time periods are not detailed in this paper.
Although colour symbolism will not be discussed in detail here, it is important to recognise that the use of colour in a symbolic way in ancient Egypt provides important background to the discussion of colour aspects, as the use of any specific colour pigment, colour palette or colour term may have been based on an underlying symbolic framework (see generally Wilkinson 1994, pp.104-125). The subject of colour symbolism is complex and is based on information interpreted from texts, objects, paintings, and other sources (see Wilkinson 1994, pp.104-125). Wilkinson (1994, pp.106-110 ) has provided symbolic associations for the “basic” ancient Egyptian colours of white, black, red, blue, green and yellow some of which are:
- white can represent ritual purity, sacredness, southern Egypt (“white Crown”) and can be associated with white sacred animals;
- black can represent night, death, resurrection and fertility;
- red can represent life and regeneration, anger, death and destruction;
- blue can represent the heavens, the primeval flood, the Nile river, and the god, Amun-Re;
- green can represent life, growing things, and resurrection; and
- yellow can represent the sun, the eternal, and can be associated with the flesh and bones of the gods.
Combinations of opposing or related colours may have been important in the categorization of opposing ideas; for example: red and yellow/white for man and woman (Wilkinson 1994, p.111). Some colours may have also have been symbolically interchangeable, for example, blue and black for the representation of the hair and beards of the gods (Wilkinson 1994, p.111).
Of additional importance to the discussion of colour is the recognition of the challenges associated with studying ancient colour. As many authors note, the understanding of colour aspects is hampered by a number of obstacles, including the degradation/weathering of colour/pigments/support media over time, the different ways of examining and documenting coloured materials, the paucity of written records containing colour terms and the associated lack of available preserved colour materials and texts from discrete historical eras (Lee and Quirke 2000, pp.104,107; Strudwick 2001, pp.126-137; Quirke 2001, p.186), and our inherent bias towards our own cultural perception. On-going improvements in sampling and identification technologies, continued data collection on colour use on support media, and continuing attention to linguistic terminology can effect the understanding of the way that colours were used both practically and symbolically in ancient Egyptian artistic and literary life, and result in continuing changes and adjustments to ancient Egyptian colour theories (Davies 2001, p.xiii; Colinart 2001, p.3-4; see references in El Goresy 2000, pp.51-52; see Warburton 2007, pp.229-246).
Primary Materials in Paint Pigments
Prior to the Roman Period in ancient Egypt, paint pigments were almost always inorganic substances, either minerals or synthetic chemicals (Lee and Quirke 2000, p.104). Generally most pigments used in the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms were derived from or synthesized in Egyptian locales, although a small number may have been imported (El Goresy 2000, p.67). Terms for some pigments (though not for black or white) can be found in New Kingdom offerings lists and in New Kingdom administrative documents (Iversen 1955, pp.26-27; Quirke 2001 pp.189-190; Gardiner 1935, p.49; Harris 1961, p.162).
Carbon: Carbon was used primarily in the form of soot to create black pigment throughout the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms; no other material has been found to create any significant amount of black pigment during this time period (Lucas 1962, p.339; Lee and Quirke, 2000, p.108).
Calcium carbonate and calcium sulphate (gypsum): These two minerals were the primary materials used to produce white pigment throughout this time period, with gypsum the more common (Lucas 1962, p.349; Lee and Quirke 2000, p.114).
Huntite (magnesium calcium carbonate): This mineral was used to produce a very bright white pigment, and was the primary pigment used for white on wall paintings, ceramics and other media in the New Kingdom (Heywood, 2001, p.8). Researchers have found pure huntite on wooden statues from the Old Kingdom and Middle Kingdom objects, indicating that huntite was available for the production of pigment through these time periods, although the Egyptian source(s) for this pigment have not been specifically identified (Heywood 2001, pp.5-7).
BLUE AND GREEEN
Synthetic materials (“frit”): Synthetic material, or frits, were used to produce blue pigments (“Egyptian Blue”) from the 4th Dynasty and green pigments from the New Kingdom (Lee and Quirke 2000, pp.109,112; Schiegl et al. 1992, p.856). The frits were multiphase materials that were made by heating silica, lime, copper (or a copper ore such as malachite or copper wollastanite) and an alkali, and then ground to produce pigments (Lee and Quirke 2000, pp.109,112). Dark and light blue varieties of blue frit ([tl]xsbD[/tl], a term also used to describe lapis lazuli and possibly other blue stones) could be produced by varying the amounts of the initial chemicals, the microstructure of the product and/or the final particle size after grinding (Lee and Quirke 2000, p.109; Harris 1961, p.149). Green frit ([tl]Ssyt[/tl], [tl]wAd[/tl]) was made with similar ingredients as blue frit, but with a different composition; it has been suggested that it was intentionally made only from the New Kingdom onward, although some researchers have proposed an earlier date for its use (Lee and Quirke 2000, p.112; Harris 1961, pp.161; Schiegl et al. 1992, p.856; Pagès-Camagna and Colinart 2003, p.656).
Malachite ([tl]wAd[/tl]): Malachite was powdered and used as eye paint until the middle of the Old Kingdom, and so was available for use as a pigment in Egypt from that time on (Aston, Harrell and Shaw 2000, p.44; Lee and Quirke 2000, p.112; Harris 1961, p.161).
RED AND YELLOW
Iron Oxide (Ochres) ([tl]sty[/tl]): Ochres were derived from Egyptian clays containing metal oxides and included hematite and limonite; ochres are perhaps the oldest pigments known from ancient Egypt (El Goresy 2000, p.53; Lee and Quirke 2000, pp.113-115). Several forms of ochre containing variable amounts of iron oxide have been used for red, yellow and brown pigments (Colinart 2001, p.1; Lucas 1962, pp.344,346-350; Lee and Quirke 2000, pp.113-115;).
Realgar ([tl]Awt-ib[/tl]): Realgar, an arsenic sulphide was used to create a bright red-orange pigment while its light-induced breakdown product, pararealgar, is an orange-yellow in colour. Both were present primarily from the 18th Dynasty onward (Harris 1961, p.162; Lee and Quirke 2000, pp.114). The mineral does not appear to be found in Egypt (Lee and Quirke 2000, p.114).
Orpiment ( [tl]qnit[/tl] ): Orpiment is also an arsenic sulfide that was used to produce an intense golden yellow pigment. Orpiment may fade to white on exposure to light (Lee and Quirke 2000, p.115; Harris 1961, p.161). Orpiment has been found on a Middle Kingdom coffin, but has not been found in significant amounts in ancient Egypt before the New Kingdom and was most likely imported from outside of Egypt (Lee and Quirke 2000, pp.115,116; El Goresy 2000, p.54).
Jarosite: Jarosite, initially thought to be a degradation product, has been identified as a light yellow pigment used from the Old Kingdom onward (Colinart 2001, p. 4).
The information set out above, as summarized in Table 1 (including information from El Goresey 2000, Table, p.68), shows that materials available for use as painting pigments in the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms included carbon black, red and yellow ochres, green malachite, blue frit, light yellow jarosite, white calcium carbonate, white gypsum and bright white huntite. Bright yellow orpiment may have become available to artists in the late Middle Kingdom and used through the New Kingdom, while pure bright red realgar appeared to be only available during the New Kingdom. (see Table 1; Lee and Quirke 2000, pp.115,116 El Goresy 2000, p.67-68). Green frit was possibly only produced during the New Kingdom (Lee and Quirke 2000, pp. 111,112).
|TABLE I. Principal Paint Materials Available in the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms*|
|Pigment Source||Old Kingdom||Middle Kingdom||New Kingdom*|
|Calcium carbonate and gypsum||✔||✔||✔|
|✔ = available during the time period|
|(✔) = at least one use found in the time period, but not generally used|
|– = likely not generally available during the time period, but research is ongoing|
|* See also El Goresy 2000, p.68.|
Painting Colour Palettes
The choice of colours in ancient Egyptian painted art could have resulted from a variety of considerations, including the pigments that were available at the time, and the natural, aesthetic and symbolic representations that the artist wished to exhibit (Baines 2001, p.145). In general, pigments were painted solidly across a surface; shading and texture or patterns were used more rarely (Baines 1985, p.285; Lee and Quirke 2000, p.108). Colour palettes may have differed with each support media: that is specific colours or pigment materials may have been used only, for example, on wood or on stone, for either practical (ability of the pigment material to bind the media), symbolic or aesthetic reasons (Lee and Quirke 2000, p.108).
The core colour palette for painted support media throughout the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms consisted of red, yellow, blue, green, brown (ochre-based) black and white (Lee and Quirke 2000, p.117). Baines (1985) suggested that the Old Kingdom palette consisted of black, red, white, green, yellow, blue and, sparingly, grey, while that of the Middle Kingdom is similar to that of the Old Kingdom with the possible addition of brown as a specific palette colour (Baines 1985, pp.286-287). In the New Kingdom, Baines suggests that the colour palette added pink as a specific colour, and blue could be split into “strong” blue and light blue (Baines 1985, p.287). Although green paint produced from malachite has been found on a Middle Kingdom coffin, and perhaps a few other instances, green as a paint colour may not have been used generally until the New Kingdom (Lee and Quirke 2000, pp.111-112; but see Pagès-Camagna and Colinart 2003, p.656). It has been suggested that variants on these hues that may have been produced through mixing or layering of pigments or other painting techniques were brown, grey, orange, and pink (see references in Lee and Quirke 2000, pp.111,113). For example pink could possibly have been a combination of red ochre and white, or a light red ochre (Bryan 2010, p.991; see references in Lee and Quirke 2000, pp.111,113). From at least the late Middle Kingdom onward more intense shades of red (realgar), white (huntite) and yellow (orpiment) were added to the palette, some of which may have been mixed or layered with ochres to create additional shades of colour (Lee and Quirke 2000, pp.115-117). Pure orpiment appears to have been used only on New Kingdom royal sarcophagi and non-royal funerary manuscripts, as compared with the use of mixed orpiment on temple reliefs (Lee and Quirke 2000, p.108).
Investigations into the degradation of pigments in ancient Egypt have suggested that almost all Old and Middle Kingdom examples of green pigments, and thus green colour, at the very least on wall paintings, were in fact the result of the degradation of Egyptian blue frits from blue to green (Schiegl et al. 1992, p.856; Lee and Quirke 2000, p.110; but see Pagès-Camagna and Colinart 2003, p.656). Thus, in Old and Middle Kingdom wall paintings, objects that were thought to be painted in “natural” green could have actually been painted a light blue (Schiegl et al. 1992, p.856; Lee and Quirke 2000, p.110). However, discussions surrounding the material composition, degradation on specific media, and time period of occurrence of green and turquoise colours/pigments are on-going (Schiegl et al. 1992; Pagès-Camagna and Colinart 2003). In addition, as noted above, bright yellow (the pigment orpiment) may fade to white, and, when layered with ochre, may degrade so that only the ochre is observed (see Lee and Quirke 2000, p.115-116). In a like manner, bright red (realgar) may degrade with exposure to light (Lee and Quirke 2000, p.114). All of these physical changes to pigments would result over time in colour palettes that may not be “true” to the ancient palette, when viewed in modern times.
Wall scenes decorated tombs and temples during the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms, and could be painted on plaster that had been applied over mud brick or stone, or the scenes could be carved in relief in stone and then have pigment applied (Bryan 2010, p.994; McCorquodale 2000, p.5; Bentley 2000, p.13). As was found in the core colour palettes for all artistic support media, the overall colour palettes used for these wall paintings and reliefs during these periods would have included black, red, yellow, white, blue, and possibly pink, brown, grey and green (Baines 1985, p.286; El Goresy 2000, p.68; Lee and Quirke 2000, pp.116-117). Background colours appeared generally blue-grey or grey in the Old Kingdom, deep cream or light blue-grey in the Middle Kingdom and white, or a rich yellow in the New Kingdom (Davies 1936c, p.xl). Bright white (huntite) appeared first on wall paintings, to any great degree, only in the New Kingdom, in contrast to its apparent use on at least some wooden and other media in the Old and Middle Kingdoms (Heywood 2001, pp.5-7; El Goresy 2000, p.53). In wall paintings and reliefs, in contrast to other artistic media, pure bright yellow (orpiment) appears to be only found in its pure form in paintings in the tomb of Tuthmosis IV (New Kingdom), but is found applied with yellow ochre in many New Kingdom wall paintings and reliefs (El Goresy 2000, pp.54,55; Lee and Quirke 2000, p.108). As noted above, malachite green has not been found in paintings on stone media during these time periods; the colour green found on these representations was most likely a type of green frit or other synthetic pigment, or possibly a degradation of blue frit (Schiegl et al.. 1992, p.856; Lee and Quirke 2000, p.110; Pagès-Camagna and Colinart 2003, p.656)
Although it is difficult to compare specific differences in colour palettes among wall paintings or reliefs due to the differences in pigment degradation rates, in rates of weathering of the artistic supports, and other considerations, it is important, when discussing colour, to at least have a sense of how colours were presented on any specific medium. Three wall paintings are shown in Figures 1, 2 and 3 dated from the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms respectively, painted on a layer of plaster over straw and applied to brick, a wash over rock, and a wash upon a mud and straw coating over rock, respectively. In order to reduce comparative variables these figures represent reproductions from a single source, painted from the originals by the same copyist (Davies 1936c). Reviewing Figures 1-3, it is clear that it is not a simple task to fit a single painting within a colour palette categorization, and must be reviewed using rigorous standardizations (see Strudwick 2001, pp.126-137). In addition, as discussed in this paper, the greens seen in the Old and Middle Kingdom paintings, found primarily in the colour of the vegetation, may originally have been blue, reducing the present day perception of the colour palette for these paintings, and any red, yellow or white colours that may have been painted with huntite, orpiment, or realgar may have disappeared due to degradation.
The translation of ancient colour terms is a complex task, as the modern conception of colour is overlaid on what was perceived in ancient times (Quirke 2001, p.186). In addition, there is a limited availability of texts with colour words, texts which may not have reflected the language of the majority of the population (Quirke 2001, p.186; Warburton 2007, 235). Moreover, many demotic texts have not been fully translated and any difference between the formal and vernacular colour vocabularies may not yet have emerged. However, it appears that words for colour in ancient Egypt existed from the 3rd millennium BC and did not appear to change appreciably throughout the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms (Baines 1985, p.283). The number of colour words in ancient Egyptian has been postulated to be anywhere from four to more than ten in number (Schenkel 2002, p. 211; see Tables 1, 2 and 3 in Warburton 2007, pp.231-232).
In ancient Egyptian texts, there are two words commonly translated as “colour”, [tl]inm[/tl] and [tl]iwn
[/tl]; [tl]inm[/tl] may also denote the material or substance as seen (colour or skin) and [tl]iwn[/tl] the quality (smoothness) (Quirke 2001, p.187). It is generally agreed that terms translated as English colour terms existed, and that there were at least four basic abstract terms: [tl]km[/tl] (black), [tl]HD [/tl](white), [tl]dSr [/tl](red) and [tl]wAD[/tl] (green) (and may include [tl]sAb[/tl], for variegated), all of which appear to have been used as adjectives and verbs in written texts (Schenkel 2007, p. 211; Baines 1985, p.283; Quirke 2001, p.188). All of these words have additional meanings in ancient Egyptian: [tl]km[/tl] (dark), [tl]HD[/tl] (bright), [tl]dSr[/tl] (a number of meanings) and [tl]wAD[/tl] (fresh), indicating that the translation into colour must be made in the context of the text (Quirke 2001, p.188). It has been argued that the term for green ([tl]wAD[/tl]) may also extend to blue or green-blue (Iverson 1955, p.6). The most noticeable linguistic discrepancy is the lack of a term for yellow, a colour commonly found in artistic representations throughout this time period (Quirke 2001, p.186).
A term generally thought to translate as blue ([tl]xsbD[/tl]), also translates as the material lapis lazuli (Baines 1985, p.286). It has been suggested that [tl]xsbD[/tl] may even denote “dark blue” while the term for the material turquoise ([tl]mekft[/tl]) may denote “light blue” (Table 3, Warburton 2007, p.232). In addition, of the “basic” colour terms, two may also refer to a mineral: [tl]HD[/tl], silver and [tl]wAD[/tl] for malachite” (Harris 1961 pp. 41,102,103). Based on these and other translations, it has been suggested that the number of basic colour terms should reflect available mineral/materials terminology (Warburton 2007, p.232).
Black, white, red and green are the primary colour terms found in Old, Middle and New Kingdom texts (Baines 1985, p.283). A brief non-exhaustive review of the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts (“PT”) as translated by Faulkner (1969) and other Old Kingdom texts collected and translated by Strudwick (2007) show that terms, as translated for black, white, red and green are well represented: for example black knife and black eye paint (PT, Utterances 80,290), white teeth, green eye-paint and green boat (PT, Utterances 125, 404,667), and red jars (PT Utterance 244). However there appear to be only a few words in the text for lapis lazuli and/or turquoise that might be associated with abstract colour terms for blue (see for example PT Utterances 246,352; Strudwick 2007, p.303). There are references to gold that may be translated as “golden” and there are references to the stones, turquoise and lapis lazuli (see for example PT Utterances 319,326; Strudwick 2007, pp. 89,137). A similar non-exhaustive search of the Middle Kingdom Coffin Texts (“CT”) translated by Faulkner (1973) and Middle Kingdom literature translated in Lichtheim (1975) finds a similar range of colour terms, also with words translated as turquoise, lapis lazuli, gold and golden (see for example Faulkner 1973, CT Spells 90,132, 173, 594, 923,924,934,940; Lichtheim 1975, p.152). Kuehni (1980) has reviewed the New Kingdom Book of the Dead (as translated by E. A. Wallis Budge (1895, Bell publication:1960)) for colour words and finds ten direct uses of colour terms including white (white leather), red (red demons), green (green stone), and blue (blue of the sky), and notes that a review of the literary usage of colour terms in ten secular literary tales from the 6th to the 19th dynasties shows colour terms including red, blue, and white, although terms were also found for malachite, lapis lazuli, turquoise and gold as precious materials (Kuehni 1980, p.170). Thus the number of colour terms from the Old Kingdom through the New Kingdom was limited, was not as broad as the range of colours used in artistic palettes at the time, and did not change significantly over time. (Quirke 2001 p.186; Baines 1985, p.289-291).
Conclusions: Colour Aspects in the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms
As noted above, Baines (1985) reviewed the evolution of two colour aspects in ancient Egypt, colour paint palette and colour terminology, in order to arrive at a proposed evolutionary scheme for colour in ancient Egypt (Baines 1985, pp. 283-289). However, a third aspect of colour, the materials that make the paint pigments, is equally as important to the understanding of colour culture and evolution during the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms (Lee and Quirke 2000, p.104; Quirke 2001, p.191). As new scientific techniques have been used to assess colour in the last twenty-five or so years, new pigments used during the time period of the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms, have been identified, and new degradation patterns of known pigments have been discovered, leading to the suggested expansion or, in some cases limitation, of ancient Egyptian colour palettes during different eras (see El Goresy 2000, 67; Schiegl et al. 1992, p.856; Lee and Quirke 2000, pp.116-117). In addition, an assessment of materials/pigment terminology has led to the proposed expansion, by at least one researcher, of basic colour terminology (see Warburton 2007, p.242; see also Schenkel 2007, pp.220,225-226).
Looking at colour materials, palettes and terms, one could hypothesize that the availability of different pigment materials during different time periods informed colour palette choices, and that the availability of pigments, colours and artistic colour choices gave rise to colour vocabularies (Baines 2001, p.145; Warburton, 2007 238,242). However, the relationship among these three aspects of colour is complex. If we generally look at the progression of these aspects from the Old through the New Kingdoms as presented here, we see that most materials for principal paint pigments were generally available to artists throughout this period, with the possible exceptions of green frit, orpiment and realgar, all of which may have been used primarily during the New Kingdom ( see El Goresy 2000, p.68). However, when we look at the use of the materials in the colour paint palettes of a variety of artistic representations, we find that any analysis becomes difficult. The first consideration is how we visually classify colours used in painting. Rigorous colour classification procedures must be used to allow any comparisons of visual analyses (Strudwick 2001, pp.126-135). A second consideration is the determination of whether the colours are “true” to those used in ancient times; what the researcher is seeing today is not necessarily the ancient reality, and the determination of visible colour palettes must be supported by materials analysis (Lee and Quirke 2000, p.104). For example, as noted in this paper, the degradation of blue frit, orpiment and realgar to different colours create uncertainties in ancient Egyptian colour palette analysis. A third consideration is the apparent use of particular pigments in particular ways on specific artistic support media at particular historical time periods; artists may have focused on the surface, such as stone, wood , papyrus, rather than intended colour symbolism or the contemporary palette and binding media when applying paint (Lee and Quirke 2000, pp.110,117). Again, material analysis must support colour palette analysis (Lee and Quirke 2000, p.104).
As noted in this paper, while the number of available pigments and thus the colour palette may have changed during the time period reviewed here, the number of terms for colour appeared to remain the same. Scarre (2002) and Jones (2002 ) have suggested that material culture, that is the production of pigments and the use of colours, may precede linguistic description and categorization; that societies may have, as noted by Jones, “material-colour vocabularies” rather than broader linguistic colour vocabularies (Scarre 2002, p.231; Jones and MacGregor 2002, p.7). Perhaps only religiously symbolic colour terms were used in the texts that are available to us, and/or that ancient Egyptian terms for brightness, texture, and pigment materials were more important than “basic” colour terms (Pinch 2001 p.182; Quirke 2001, p.187,191). Here again, the materials used to create pigments may become an important component of the terminology aspect of colour; colour terms may have originated from material associated terms such as “malachite-like” for green material (see Schenkel 2007, p.213). As noted, Warburton, in fact, makes a case for the use of words derived from words for metals and semi-precious stones as “basic” colour terms (Warburton, 2007, pp. 238,242; see Schenkel 2007, 225-226).
The study of colour in ancient Egyptian art and texts is fascinating and complex. The on-going research into colour use and theories regarding these three aspects of colour, as outlined here, tend to blur the lines of bright-line hypotheses regarding the evolution of ancient Egyptian colour use or colour terms, and new insights into the degradation of pigments from one colour to another potentially change those currently suggested symbolic connotations that are even partially based on visual colour analysis. For all of these colour aspects, the symbolic underpinnings of colour use in ancient Egypt must eventually be considered and applied to colour theories. The development of new scientific and linguistic methodologies, and the correlation of other aspects of colour with those discussed here, should provide continued insight into the use of colour in ancient Egypt.
Fig. 1 The Medûm Geese. Medûm, tomb of Itet, Dyn.IV, about 2700 B.C. (public domain image sourced from Wikimedia Commons)
Figure 2. Birds in an Acacia Tree. Beni Hasan, Tomb of Khnemhotep. Dyn. XII, about 1920-1900 B.C. Used with permission, courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Also reproduced by Davies (1936a,) Plate I; Davies 1936c, pp.4-5.
Figure 3. Userḥēt Enjoys the Cool of His Garden. Thebes, Tomb of Userḥēt, Dyn. XIX, 1313-1292 B.C. (Davies 1936b, Plate LXXXVII; Davies 1936c, pp.167-169). Used with permission, courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
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