From Ancient Egypt to Teotihuacán, Centuries-Old Palettes Illuminate the Role of the Painter

“Painter’s Palette Inscribed with the Name of Amenhotep III” (ca. 1390–1352 BCE), ivory and pigment, 6 7/8 x 1 3/4 inches x 3/8 inches, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

For all the paint fragments found throughout the ancient world, on murals, pottery, sculpture, and scrolls, surprisingly few ancient paint palettes have been uncovered. Ancient palettes in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the British Museum in London, and the Louvre in Paris — among other institutions — number in the single digits. This is even more surprising now that scholars know ancient Greek and Roman statues were vibrantly painted

The palettes we do have, many of which still contain traces of original pigment, show us how people painted, but they also tell us about the role of the painter in ancient civilizations.

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