The APPEAR Project

The APPEAR (Ancient Panel Paintings: Examination, Analysis, and Research) Project investigates ancient panel paintings to increase the understanding of their materials and manufacture. Launched by the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Department of Antiquities Conservation in 2013, this international collaboration addresses the multitude of questions that surround ancient panel paintings—primarily mummy portraits, as well as related artifacts including shrouds, shrines, and complete portrait mummies.

Ancient mummy portraits are unique examples of paintings that survive from Roman-era Egypt. Portraits of the deceased that were executed on wooden panels and incorporated into the wrappings of mummified human remains, they combine the technical methods and style of Greco-Roman culture with the ritual function of Egyptian funerary tradition over 2,500 years old. Roughly 1,000 mummy portraits are housed in collections around the world today. While they first attracted attention in the nineteenth century, only a handful have undergone full and rigorous technical investigation exploring how they were made. Much remains to be learned about these ancient art works and their influence on succeeding painting traditions.

APPEAR was designed with a highly collaborative approach to encourage scholarly examination and support the exchange of technical data and discoveries. Participating institutions from around the world provide resources and the expertise of conservators, art historians, artists, and material and imaging scientists. Each institution researches their collections and contributes results to a shared database, which promotes comparison between the artifacts and helps develop a broader understanding of the production, materials, and workshop and artistic practices that created ancient panel paintings. This approach makes the APPEAR Project a proven model for cultural heritage research in the twenty-first century.

The first phase of the APPEAR project will culminate with a two-day conference scheduled for May 2018 at the Getty Villa, followed by the publication of the conference proceedings.

Related Resources

Bibliography (PDF, 218 KB)
Glossary (PDF, 360 KB)
Further Resources (PDF, 47 KB)

Conference

Marking the end of the first phase of APPEAR, a public, two-day conference is scheduled for May 17-18, 2018 at the Getty Villa. Presentations by project participants will highlight the collaborative work, investigations, observations and data collected to date. Conference information, registration, and schedules are forthcoming.

The proceedings will be published online through Getty Publications.

Project Database

The APPEAR database currently includes historic, technical, and analytical information about ancient panel paintings. Participating institutions have used examination techniques that include (but are not limited to):

  • Visible light imaging and examination (raking, specular, magnified)
  • X-radiography
  • Multispectral imaging techniques such as:
    • Ultraviolet illumination
    • Infrared reflectography
    • Visible induced luminescence
  • Pigment, binding medium, resin, fiber and wood identification via non-destructive and destructive (requiring small samples) analytical techniques
  • Documentation of detailed visible observations of tool marks, panel shape and preparation, inscriptions, dealer marks, and the addition of decorative details (impasto, stucco, gilding, etc.)
  • Condition and restoration history
  • Collection history and references

An overview document that summarizes the statistical information available in the database will be made available to the public in the spring of 2018.

Participants

Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam
Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Art Institute of Chicago
Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Oxford
British Museum, London
Brooklyn Museum of Art
Cantor Arts Center, Stanford, CA
Cleveland Museum of Art
Detroit Institute of Arts
The Fitzwilliam, Cambridge, UK
Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA
The J. Paul Getty Museum/Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles
Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum, Baltimore
Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, Ann Arbor, MI
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
The Menil Collection, Houston
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Michael C. Carlos Museum, Atlanta
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
National Museum in Warsaw
The National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen
The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London
Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, Berkeley
Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence
Santa Barbara Museum of Art
University of Georgia (Lamar Dodd School of Art), Athens
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia
The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT

Featured Video

Showing the promise of the APPEAR Project for answering questions about mummy paintings, technical investigations of Mummy Portrait of a Bearded Man in the Getty Museum's collection have uncovered painted details and underdrawing that are invisible to the naked eye, as well as discovered unique pigment mixtures were used to produce the perfect colors. This clip shows the portrait under visible light, x-radiograph, ultraviolet light, and infrared light. (Video courtesy of Giacomo Chiari.)


Featured Blog Post

Unlocking the Secrets of Ancient Egyptian Funerary Portraits through Modern Technology

Ancient portrait paintings let us step back in time and come eye to eye with the people who lived in Roman Egypt 2,000 years ago. Frozen in time like photographs, ... Read more


Banner caption: (left) Mummy Portrait of a Woman (81.AP.42) being analyzed using a macro-X-ray fluorescence (XRF) scanner. (center) Detail of same artwork under visible light. (right) Detail of XRF map of same artwork revealing the distribution and relative concentration of lead-based pigments used in painting the portrait (red areas indicate high levels, blue low). Analysis and imaging by the Getty Conservation Institute.