One of the most striking aspects of Egyptian wall paintings or works of art is the marvellous use of colour, with the colours often looking as fresh as if they had just been painted. The pigments used were usually made from natural ingredients, for example iron oxide (red), calcium carbonate (white) or malachite (green), colours that withstand the test of time. We know that in general the mineral base material was carefully ground, mixed with a binding agent and then pressed into blocks. Before the colour was applied to an object it was mixed with a medium of some sort, the exact composition of which is still unknown. The paint was then applied with water, usually onto an undercoat that had been prepared with a thin layer of paint. A protective layer of varnish was sometimes put on top of the paint layer. Although the Egyptian colour palette was limited, by mixing the colours and adding different ingredients to the base colour they could achieve a relatively wide range of colours.
The colours chosen depended on what was going to be depicted. The aim was not so much a 'true-to-life' representation but rather attention to the expressiveness of a colour which had to match the object or person being depicted. There were certain codes that were followed, for example the skin of men was always shown in a darker colour than that of women. Colours also had important symbolic value - black stood for both the fruitful earth and for death (Osiris as god of the underworld), white for grandeur, celebration and some sacred animals (festival clothing, the 'Great White'), red for danger and for anger (Seth, the desert), green for freshness and growth (Osiris as the god of regeneration), and blue for heaven and for air (Amun, Re-Harakhty). This symbolic value also meant that colours were important in the manufacture of amulets, with the colour being chosen on the basis of the specific aspect of the divine power you wanted to call on. If you wanted to protect yourself from all possible calamities, then you chose a multicoloured amulet.