With funding from the Gerda Henkel Foundation (€ 20,286), the barque sanctuary of the temple of Horus at Edfu will be cleaned and conserved beginning in May 2023. The aim of the interdisciplinary project is to uncover, secure and make accessible again the polychrome colour painting in one of the most sacred rooms of the temple as an essential source of information on ancient Egyptian iconography, decorative technique and cult practice. The conservation work is being carried out by an Egyptian team under the direction of the senior fine conservator Ahmed Abdel Naby (Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities). The results will also feed into the DFG project on barque sanctuary and Mesenit.
The "colourful temples" of ancient Egypt, in contrast to the polychromy of classical antiquity, have only recently come back into the consciousness of researchers and the public.. This is partly due to the fact that, on the one hand, much of it has been completely lost to exposure to sun and weather, and on the other hand, it was obscured by dirt and soot until some restoration efforts in recent years (e.g., at Dendera and Esna). The impression of Egyptian temples as beige-brown monoliths with blackened ceilings therefore contrasts sharply with the original appearance of the sanctuaries: between the green-planted floor areas and columns and the star-covered, blue-framed ceilings, the brilliantly coloured relief scenes and hieroglyphs once stood out against a white background, clearly visible from afar. Thus, we have so far missed an important facet of the temple conception whichcan help us to understand the reliefs better and more completely, and whichmake the building the image of the cosmos as which the priests and architects had originally conceived it. In addition, the study of paint application in a combination of chemical-physical data and cultural-historical questions can provide information about the production technique (chaîne opératoire) of ancient paint, from the origin of the pigments to the differentiation of craftsmen (groups).
A pilot study, in which the cleaning and conservation of the barque sanctuary had already begun in 2021/2022, provided the first instructive results (such as details or entire elements of the decoration only present in colour, hieroglyphic texts supplemented or corrected in painting) and pointed to the research field that is opening up, such as questions about the colour symbolism of the hieroglyphs or the emic spatial impression. In an 'archaeology of the wall', the entire history of use of this important room is to be uncovered,interpreted, and understood in a holistic approach.