Mummy Brown

Until relatively recently, Egyptian mummies, believe it or not, were used to produce a type of paint, which was called Mummy Brown, Mommia, or Momie. The main ingredient of this paint was, as you may have already guessed, ground up Egyptian mummies. This powder was mixed with white pitch and myrrh to produce a rich brown pigment. It was first made in the 16th century, and became a popular color amongst the Pre-Raphaelite painters of the mid-19th century.

For instance, it has been recorded that the British portraitist, Sir William Beechey, kept stocks of Mummy Brown. The French artist Martin Drölling also reputedly used Mummy Brown made with the remains of French kings disinterred from the royal abbey of St. Denis in Paris. It has been suggested that his L’interieur d’une cuisine is an example of extensive use of the pigment, while the mesmerizing painting by Edward Burne-Jones, entitled The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon, is also believed to have been painted using Mummy Brown.

Apothecary: Using Ground Mummies to Cure Disease

Art supplies were not the only things that ground bones of mummies were used for. More surprisingly, perhaps, is their use for medicinal purposes. This was due to the belief that mummies contained bitumen, which was used by the ancient Greeks to cure a variety of diseases. Apparently, in the absence of real bitumen, the so-called bitumen from a mummy would do just as well. Keep in mind that the word mummy itself is derived from the Persian word for bitumen, mum or mumiya.

As a result of this belief in the medicinal properties of Mummy powder, Egyptian mummies were exported to Europe, ground down, and sold in apothecaries throughout the continent. Part of the craze for Mummy powder was due to the claim that mummies had a mysterious life force that was transferrable to whoever ingested it. Hence, ground mummies were consumed by Europeans well into the 18th century.

Sources: Ancient Origins, “The Gruesome History of Eating Corpses as Medicine” in Smithsonian Magazine, “Ground Up Mummies Were Once an Ingredient in Paint” in Smithsonian Magazine.

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