Thanks to the generosity of Cecil and Susan Hawkins of the Canadian Chapter, the Vatican Museums is proud to announce that the conservation of the Mummy of an Unknown Man has been completed. The mummy was in dire need of preservation due to degraded bandages and evidence of infestation. However, due to the hard work of Dr. Alessia Amenta and her team, the mummy has now been preserved for future generations.
Before the work began on the project, the Egyptian department knew that the mummy was a male likely between the ages of 35 and 50. The corpse was completely wrapped in bandages except for his face and two toes. This uncovering was likely due to inappropriate handling during the original excavation in the late 19th century. This mishandling was perhaps due to thieves trying to steal amulets that the Egyptians would place between the bandages for protection.
This mummy was the second in a series of seven that are yet to be preserved. This ‘Vatican Mummy Project’ will not only ensure the conservation of these artifacts, but it is also leading to new discoveries! During the work on this mummy the team found two platforms located directly between the should blades. These beams, of unknown substance, would have supported the corpse while the doctors performed the embalming process, which is something Egyptians felt was necessary to ensure a safe travel to the afterlife. The restorers were also able to identify twelve bandages, four shrouds, and three different textile types. These discoveries are not only helping to better inform the Vatican Museums, but are enabling a better understanding of these people and their burial rituals throughout the scholarly community.
Next time you visit the Vatican Museums, make sure to stop through the Egyptian Galleries and say hello to one of the mummies on display. Whether you see them before or after they go to the labs for preservation, they are truly one of the most unforgettable parts of the Vatican Museums!
The Mummy before his restoration
The skull uncovered during the restoration process
The bandages after their cleaning
From the 7th to 4th Century B.C. the Etruscans produced volumes of expressive greek pottery making them the largest producer of such work outside of Greece. Amazingly, over 2500 years later we are still able to reconstruct these artistic treasures while preserving their narrative and respecting their age and importance.
In the restoration labs at the Vatican we are currently working on 17 precious Etruscan vases with restorations expected to be finished this May. There are a few intriguing aspects of these particular reconstructions which are being completed by restorer Giulia Barella.
See the video behind the scenes!
- What is conservative restoration?
Shards of pottery can get lost over the millennia leaving small gaps in the artistic imagery. Instead of trying to guess at possible filler for these lost pieces, Barella has chosen to retain the full integrity of the piece as we understand it. Where there are gaps she uses a monochrome touch up piece that resembles the background of the base. This kind of conservative restoration means that there are no assumptions and viewers have an unblemished and unbiased view of the existing work. See the video for how this looks!
- Sometimes earlier restorations can hinder the work today
For example, one vase on display had to be disassembled before it could be restored. Restoration in the 1800s was crude by today’s standards. Therefore, we melted away the animal based glue they used in the 19th century and separated the 30 composite pieces before Ms. Barella was able to continue with her own work of puzzling the shards back together with more modern and sustainable adhesive.
It is thanks to the Canadian Chapter that we can continue restoration on these amazing pieces. Stay tuned for more information on this demanding and rewarding project that allows a glimpse into artisans work from thousands of years ago.
(And for a glimpse into life inside the Ceramic and Metal Restoration Laboratory – see this video!)
Vatican Museums Director, Antonio Paolucci