Projection mapping reveals colours of Egyptian temple

projection mapping met museum

Visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art can now discover the colours that may have once adorned the walls of the Temple of Dendur over 2,000 years ago, thanks to the power of projection mapping.

Egyptologists have long publicised that many of ancient Egypt’s most iconic stone buildings were decorated with brightly coloured paintings – only now, however, has technology been applied to bring a temple to life.

Relocated to New York in the mid-1960s after flooding from the Nile removed all traces of paint, a research team carefully studied previous surveys of the 15 B.C.-built temple and similar buildings to create a full-colour projection that is mapped onto a carved scene depicting the Roman emperor Augustus making offerings to Hathor and Horus, at the south side of the temple.

Since its introduction in 2013, the Met’s MediaLab – headed by Erin Peters, a fellow in Egyptian art with research including ancient polychromy – have been working to bring a glimpse of ancient Egyptian life to the masses.

“Through rigorous research, prototyping, discussion, and iteration, we have managed to cast new light on the Temple by presenting it in a fashion much closer to its original form for the first time in many millennia. Using relatively recent advances in software, we were able to experiment with restoration using non-destructive means to temporarily display content without presenting any challenges for conservation,” commented the museum’s MediaLab team on a blog post.

The projection was created from a vector-based image imported from Adobe Illustrator, allowing researchers to add a layer and trace the original lines of the scene. openFrameworks was then used to fill the line drawings with colour, before they were sent to a projector to get them to align with the carvings through MadMapper.

The interactive features of the ‘Colour the Temple’ projection tool allows tour guides to switch between displays to show different colour patterns – including one with a temple-wide white background , and highlight the dialogue carved into hieroglyphics to visitors. Parts of the scene are also animated to add another storytelling element to the projection. Viewings take place in the evenings to allow visitors to enjoy optimum viewing of the digital images.  

After the success of the installation, MediaLab now expects to use projection mapping throughout the museum to bring a modern touch to its ancient artefacts.