Egyptian Papyrus Print

Posted on December 16, 2019

A recent client surprised his parents by framing something of theirs as a gift. They are a retired couple who travel the world and like to bring back souvenirs from their trips, but he was appalled to find one such memento taped to a wall in their home. The hand colored Egyptian print on papyrus paper had to first be flattened and cleansed of adhesive residue, but the cross-hatched and pressed reeds are durable enough to withstand the treatment in a hot press. The stalk of the papyrus grew as high as 16′ tall in the verdant Nile delta and was used by ancient Egyptians in many applications, including this first paper – a word that indeed derives from papyrus.

It was decided that the sheet’s distinctive edge would be featured in the framing, it’s ragged, natural perimeter displayed without a window mat covering it. A neutral gray rag mat was chosen to show underneath it, and, to support it around its perimeter, a rectangular blank just smaller than the papyrus was cut out of the mat to which it was attached with water-reversible adhesive on all four sides with tabs of light and strong mulberry paper. This blank was then re-fit into the hole it was cut from and taped back in place on the reverse.  The effect is that it lies “floating” on the mat, its edges naturally rippling as if held only by gravity in an upright position, casting revealing shadows that prove its genuine dimensionality to the viewer.

Roughly 1 1/2″ out from this edge is the frame holding this backing board and the anti-reflection and ultraviolet filtering glass covering it, separated by a 1/4″ spacer made from strips of the same mat. This air space provides enough distance that the glass is in no danger of touching the papyrus as any moisture condensing on it would be detrimental to the print.

In choosing a frame color, it was decided to let the pinks and reds in the image stand out and instead use the frame to harmonize with the orange of the two lions and the light brown of the winged figures surrounding the subjects. Staining basswood with American Walnut stain makes the appropriate warm neutral tone. It was also antiqued by a process of distressing and applying a rottenstone wash, but before this patina was applied, the bottom rail was carved to make the frame an artifact of its own. The winged solar disc seen arching over the figures in the image was used in its straightened form in an ornamentation reminiscent of those found on unearthed temples to Horus and Ra. The wavy vintage profile of this frame makes a useful canvas for such carvings.

Finally, the frame’s corners were reinforced with deep splines and it was sealed with two coats of clear wax. My client’s parents were delighted to be able to able to finally display their keep-sake in a beautiful way that will protect it for generations.