MUMMY BROWN

“I CANNOT PRETEND TO FEEL IMPARTIAL ABOUT COLORS. I REJOICE WITH THE BRILLIANT ONES AND FEEL GENUINELY SORRY FOR THE POOR BROWNS.”
~ Winston Spencer Churchill

There are times you have to shake your head and wonder how events occurred in history. An Englishman in the 1500s happened upon Egyptian graves. He broke up various parts of the bodies and transported them to a British colorman who mixed the mummy bones with white pitch and myrrh to create a rich dark pigment called Mummy brown. Delacroix used it in his palette in 1854 and it remained in use until the 20th century!

The mummy bones were also used as a medicine in common drugs for everything from headaches, coughs, pain and epilepsy. It was believed that a mystical spirit transmitted from the bones to the patient. Egyptian tombs were sacked and a trade in mummies ensued. When mummies were not available, another trade of sorts began with the corpses of condemned criminals. 

The Europeans in 1830, were so enthralled with mummies that they began unrolling mummies as educational scientific events. It was said these “unrollings” progressed into parlor entertainment as well. 

It’s hard to believe mummy bones were used in paint and medicine at all. Distasteful doesn’t begin to describe it. But here lies another fascinating color history. This was a color that wasn’t even a secret but a well-known fact. Indeed a mystery to us today as to its accepted use.