Someone, at some point in history, thought, hey, here’s an idea—let’s make paint out of crushed up mummies. Mummy, or Egyptian Brown, peaked in usage during the 18th century, in British painting especially. The “raw materials,” however, were a hot commodity long before that, as mummy powder was believed to have all kinds of magical healing properties and were a mainstay in 16th century European apothecaries. “In the course of at least 300 years of trade, an unrecorded number of archaeological objects was destroyed in order to make pigment,” says Khandekar of the highly unethical practice, whose popularity finally petered out in the early 1900s.
The Creators Project has an excellent article, along with some wonderful photos, about Harvard’s vast collection of rare pigments in their conservation lab. I was aware of all the pigments except for Mummy. That one left me rather stunned.