Applied Physics A

, Volume 121, Issue 3, pp 813–821 | Cite as

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

  • Monica Ganio
  • Johanna Salvant
  • Jane Williams
  • Lynn Lee
  • Oliver Cossairt
  • Marc WaltonEmail author
Invited Paper


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.


Jarosite Gray Background Blue Pigment Purpurin Painted Panel 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Research at the Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS) is supported by generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This work made use of the EPIC facility (NUANCE Center-Northwestern University), which has received support from the MRSEC program (NSF DMR-1121262) at the Materials Research Center; the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (NSF EEC-0647560) at the International Institute for Nanotechnology; and the State of Illinois, through the International Institute for Nanotechnology.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Monica Ganio
    • 1
  • Johanna Salvant
    • 1
  • Jane Williams
    • 2
  • Lynn Lee
    • 3
  • Oliver Cossairt
    • 1
  • Marc Walton
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Center for Scientific Studies in the ArtsNorthwestern UniversityChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of AnthropologyUniversity of California, BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA
  3. 3.Getty Conservation InstituteLos AngelesUSA

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