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Mummy Brown

Published August 16, 2019

Mummy Brown was a pigment of paint that became popular in Europe during the 16th century. The rich brown color was made from grinding up t Egyptian mummies, both human and feline.[1] It was prized for its  transparency, and was used for painting shadows, glazing, and flesh-tones in both oil and watercolor works of art.[2] In the 19th century, it became a favorite shade of the Pre-Raphaelites, a group of young artists who rejected the “Classical art” (then defined as the style of the Renaissance painter, Raphael) in favor of realism and natural subjects.[3]

While we do not know precisely which paintings from this period were created using Mummy Brown– artists Eugene Delacroix, Sir Willian Beechly, and Edward Burne-Jones are all recorded as having purchased it — it has often been suggested that Martin Drolling’s Interior of a Kitchen uses the pigment.[4]

To make the brown paint, mummies were transported from Egypt, then ground up in Europe to be sold. British chemist and painter Arthur Herbert Church claimed that just one Egyptian mummy could be used to create 20 years’ worth of paint.[5] In addition to paint, mummy powder was also often prescribed by physicians who believed that ingesting the material could cure a variety of illnesses.

The paint fell out of popularity with the Pre-Raphaelites when artists became more aware of its origins. Burne-Jones was reported to have buried his tube of Mummy Brown in his garden when he discovered how it was made.[6] The paint stopped being produced in the 20th century–largely because there were fewer mummies on the market, and they thus were very costly.

[1] R. Leopoldina Torres, “A Pigment from the Depths,” Harvard Art Museums, October 31, 2013,
[2] Philip McCouat, “The Life and Death of Mummy Brown,” Journal of
Art in Society,
[3] “Pre-Raphaelite,” Tate Museum of Art,
[4] Torres, “Pigment from the Depths.”
[5] McCouat, “Life and Death.”
[6] McCouat, “Life and Death.”