The showcase exhibition organised by the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung is devoted to the mysterious material known as Corinthium aes – “Corinthian bronze”. Knowledge of the material’s intricate manufacturing process was long believed to be lost, until a goldsmith from Nuremberg undertook to recreate it. Now, modern and ancient Egyptian artefacts enter into dialogue in the Neues Museum.
Corinthium aes is a special copper alloy that is enriched with gold, silver, or arsenic. After undergoing an elaborate treatment with copper salt solutions, the material develops a deep purple to near-black patina. What is remarkable about this patina is that it is able to regenerate on its own via contact with skin perspiration if it is damaged or scratched. Even in antiquity, people were intrigued by this special qualities, with philosophers like Herodotus, Pliny, and Plutarch writing with great enthusiasm about the beauty of the precious “Corinthian ore”. The substance was also already known about in Ancient Egypt in the third millennium BC, where it was referred to as “black copper”.
Throughout the course of human history, knowledge pertaining to its composition and the methods of its production devolved into arcane knowledge, before ultimately being all but entirely lost. However, thanks to research conducted into the sources of ancient artefacts and the precise identification of the materials used to make them, goldsmith Matthias Lehr and archaeologist Alessandra Giumlia-Mair have managed to successfully recreate the method used to make this alloy. Now, modern and ancient Egyptian artefacts are able to enter into dialogue in this exhibition.
Corinthium Aes: The Mystery of Black Copper is curated by Olivia Zorn, deputy director, and Rebekka Pabst, research associate in advanced training, both of the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung.
A catalogue will be published to accompany the exhibition.