Mummy Brown

In the latest episode of fabulous design podcast North v South, there's a big discussion about how designers use colour. There's some mention of the origin of pigments, pre-Pantone, and one particularly gruesome bit of trivia is mentioned. Mummy Brown, a rich brown pigment popular amongst the Pre-Raphaelites, was made by literally grinding up Egyptian mummies. It's impossible to tell which specific paintings it appears in, but it's believed that Martin Drolling's L’interieur d’une cuisine is a particularly good example of it in use. Here's what Wikipedia has to say on the matter:

Mummy brown was originally made in the 16th and 17th centuries from white pitch, myrrh, and the ground-up remains of Egyptian mummies, both human and feline. As it had good transparency, it could be used for glazes, shadows, flesh tones and shading. However, in addition to its tendency to crack, it was extremely variable in its composition and quality, and since it contained ammonia and particles of fat, was likely to affect other colours with which it was used. It fell from popularity during the 19th century when its composition became more generally known to artists. The Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones was reported to have ceremonially buried his tube of Mummy Brown in his garden when he discovered its true origins. By 1915, one London colourman claimed that he could satisfy the demands of his customers for twenty years from one Egyptian mummy. 

Mummy Brown eventually ceased being produced in the mid-20th century when the supply of available mummies was exhausted … what a strange sentence to type. Anyway, for more on the history of pigments and cat-grinding, check out The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair.