Spectacular 2,000-year-old Hellenistic-style wall paintings have been revealed at the world heritage site of Petra through the expertise of British conservation specialists. The paintings, in a cave complex, had been obscured by centuries of black soot, smoke and greasy substances, as well as graffiti.
Experts from the Courtauld Institute in London have now removed the black grime, uncovering paintings whose “exceptional” artistic quality and sheer beauty are said to be superior even to some of the better Roman paintings at Herculaneum that were inspired by Hellenistic art.
Virtually no Hellenistic paintings survive today, and fragments only hint at antiquity’s lost masterpieces, while revealing little about their colours and composition, so the revelation of these wall paintings in Jordan is all the more significant. They were created by the Nabataeans, who traded extensively with the Greek, Roman and Egyptian empires and whose dominion once stretched from Damascus to the Red Sea, and from Sinai to the Arabian desert.
Such is the naturalistic intricacy of these paintings that the actual species of flowers, birds and insects bursting with life can be identified. They were probably painted in the first century, but may go back further. Professor David Park, an eminent wall paintings expert at the Courtauld, said that the paintings “should make jaws drop”.