A workshop on the subject, "Colour matters. Polychromy of Ancient Greek and Roman Sculpture as Research Subject in Archaeology and Philology" was held on Friday 24th September 2021, to coincide with the closing of the exhibition ‘Bunte Götter – the Golden Edition’ at the Liebieghaus. See the workshop programme here.
Jan Stubbe Østergaard has kindly put together some notes on his impressions of the meeting. Read them here.
Paolo Liverani (speaking), in the background; Vinzenz Brinkmann and Clarissa Blume-Jung (both standing) and Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann (sitting) . In the foreground; Oliver Primavesi (left) and Christiane Vorster (right).
Image © Jan Stubbe Østergaard
Conservators Carrie Roberts and Suzanne Davis are in the midst of a two-year grant-funded project to characterize pigments and dyes on Roman Egyptian artifacts at the Kelsey Museum at the University of Michigan. This NEH-funded project will incorporate multiband imaging and XRF analysis of sculpture, ceramics, textiles, and wall painting fragments from Karanis and Terenouthis, two Roman Egyptian sites excavated by University of Michigan in the 1920s and 30s.
The goals of this project are twofold: to make initial pigment and dye characterizations on up to 200 artifacts with known provenance, gathering data that can be immediately linked to known archaeological sites; and to develop a set of online research tools that can be easily replicated in other small museums like ours. By looking at our collection with tools that are familiar to archaeologists, we hope to explore trends in Roman Egyptian color use while also making technical color research more accessible. We’ve made some interesting discoveries so far, including painted funerary inscriptions only visible under UV; evidence of pigment mixtures and double-dying; and an unexpected green colorant on a well-documented ancient artifact. We look forward to sharing our full results—and accompanying research toolkit—on the Kelsey Museum’s website in early 2023.
KM 3768, painted terracotta figurine from Karanis, Egypt, 1st – 5th centuries CE. Image © Kelsey Museum.
Examining a group of polychrome funerary stelae from Terenouthis, Egypt, late 2nd – early 4th centuries CE. Image © Kelsey Museum.
News from the Getty - The APPEAR (Ancient Panel Paintings, Examination, Analysis and Research) Project, Publication and Second Conference in 2022!
In 2013, the Antiquities Conservation Department at the J. Paul Getty Museum launched an international collaboration known as APPEAR: Ancient Panel Painting, Examination, Analysis and Research. Focused on the study of the materials and manufacturing practices of ancient mummy portraits from Roman Egypt, the APPEAR project is a collaboration of forty-nine partner institutions and eleven advisory consultants from different archaeological and archaeometric backgrounds. Participation in the project encourages the exchange of comparative visual, historical and technical information through a database platform for sharing among scholars world-wide to develop research paths, and recognize trends and anomalies. The value of identifying and comparing the materials used to create these exceptionally well-preserved painted artifacts, specifically pigments and binding media, directly benefits the broader understanding of polychromy in the ancient world. Through conferences, publications and keeping the subject at the forefront of ancient material studies, the APPEAR project will remain a unique resource for years to come.
Conferences and Publication Information
In 2018 an international conference was organized at the Getty Villa providing an opportunity for participants to present their research; the papers were published in 2020 online and can be accessed here:
The APPEAR project will conclude in 2022 with a second meeting hosted by the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam. For information on the project and updates, please visit:
Reminder - Special issue of Heritage on "Polychromy in Ancient Sculpture and Architecture" *FREE OF CHARGE* until 31 August 2021.
This special issue will collect contributions to the 9th Polychromy Round Table but also invites articles from researchers who may be considering ancient polychromy from the Greco-Roman world & comparative studies from their own interdisciplinary viewpoints, geographical areas & time periods.
For more information, see:
All submissions until 31 August 2021 will be published open-access & *FREE OF CHARGE*
Update on the MSCA funded project, "Colorful Indications of (Ex)Change" - Noricum in the Roman Imperial period and Late Antiquity
In September 2020, Dr. Alexandra S. Rodler, a post-doctoral fellow at the Austrian Archaeological Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, was awarded a European Commission’s Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship for a period of two years, to investigate the provenance of pigments used for Roman wall paintings, as well as pigment production and organization of production. The project aims to test whether local production was relevant or importation can be linked to material quality, whether specific source regions and trade contacts can be identified and if supply and technology changed over time, between sites and across regions.
With a focus on wall paintings, specifically cinnabar and Egyptian blue pigments, including their archaeological and historical context as well as mineralogical and geochemical information, this project tests the potential of ancient pigments as powerful indicators of trade, cultural and technological exchange during Roman Imperial period and Late Antiquity in Noricum after it became part of the Roman Empire. This will be compared to contemporary samples from central Italian sites.
These wall painting fragments and raw pigments are first characterized by in-situ pXRF analysis at local museum collections to identify samples for further mineralogical and geochemical analysis at the University of Vienna and collaborating institutions. Parallel to the pigment analysis, potential raw materials for pigment production are also analysed and will be integrated into a provenance map.
To follow the project and learn more about the team and the institutions involved, see: https://alexandrasrodler.com/colorinxchange/ or follow on https://twitter.com/ColorinXchange
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 845075.
Wall painting fragment with Egyptian blue.
Image © A.S. Rodler (Austrian Academy of Sciences).
Cinnabar ore from Monte Amiata, Italy.
Image © A.S. Rodler (Austrian Academy of Sciences).
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing on April 26 of our beloved friend and colleague Susanna Bracci who served as Senior Researcher at the National research Council in Florence for over thirty years.
Susanna was a prominent Conservation Scientist, a highly respected figure in the Heritage Science world at national and International level.
She was an active member of the Polychromy Round Table family, sharing with many of us her research in the field of ancient polychromy, focusing on non-invasive approaches for the study of painted surfaces.
Her close working relationships with scientists, curators, conservators, scholars and students, and her incredible artistic sensitivity, made her an excellent colleague. Everyone who worked with Susanna, including the many students, would agree that Susanna’s remarkable expertise was equaled by her pleasant and positive personality, contagious to everyone she met.
In recent years, in addition to her professional and human skills, we have also admired the strong courage and determination in facing life challenges due to her personal battle with illness.
We will truly miss Susanna, her formidable intelligence and tireless dedication.
Susanna during an analytical campaign on Last Supper by Plautilla Nelli, 2016. Image courtesy of Linda Falcone, AWA Advancing Women Artists.
In 2019, Dr. Tuna Şare Ağtürk, an associate professor of classical art and archaeology at Çanakkale 18 Mart University, was awarded a European Commission’s Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship at Oxford University to prepare the first major publication of a series of painted marble frieze panels from an imperial complex recently found in Nicomedia (Izmit-Turkey), administrative capital of the Eastern Roman Empire during the Tetrarchy.
The sixty-six relief panels of the Nicomedia frieze represent an astonishing combination of imperial, mythological, and agonistic scenes. The excellent preservation of colour on the frieze is unprecedented in the corpus of Roman state relief sculpture. As the only extant imperial monument which preserves extensive applied polychromy, the frieze offers new, key insights into many technical aspects of sculptural polychromy, such as the application of colour and visibility, and the painter’s role in sculpture. Furthermore, an iconographical approach to the polychromy of the Nicomedia reliefs helps in the understanding of aspects of increasingly prevalent colour-coding in the imperial art of the later third century. The initial polychromy investigation of the reliefs, which included multispectral and microscopic imaging and pXRF analysis, has been conducted in a TÜBİTAK-supported collaborative investigation by Şare Ağtürk and Dr. Mark Abbe of University of Georgia.
Şare Ağtürk’s book ‘The Painted Tetrarchic Reliefs of Nicomedia’ will be published by Brepols later in 2021.
To follow the project and learn more about the team, the institutions involved, and the related publications see:
Image © Çukurbağ Archaeological Project, Kocaeli Archaeology Museum.
Jens Stenger started an appointment at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen on March 1 this year, to join the research project on ancient polychromy, led by Cecilie Brøns and financed by the Carlsberg Foundation. He is a physicist by training and has previously held positions at the Cologne Institute for Conservation Sciences, the Swiss Institute for Art Research, Yale’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, and the Harvard Art Museums. At Harvard, he worked on the non-invasive colour restoration of Mark Rothko’s Harvard Murals using light from a digital projector. Jens’ research interests include colour and light, combining imaging techniques and chemical analysis, technical art history, and modern materials. He will join New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts as an Assistant Professor of Conservation Science in the Spring semester, 2022.
Image © Jens Stenger
In November 2020, Dr Elisabetta Neri, a post-doctoral fellow at the atomic and nuclear spectroscopy laboratory at the University of Liège, was awarded a European MSCA Individual Fellowship for a period of two years, in order to study the significance of the polychromy of Roman imperial statues (1st-4th century AD), on an unprecedented scale.
The project, named “PolyCRomA”, proposes the first systematic study of the use of colour in the statuary of an important Roman province, and will consider 20 statues from the collections of the Bardo museum in Tunisia. The variety of typologies, qualities and provenances (local, Asia Minor, Rome) of the statues in this corpus holds up a mirror to African society of the period. Moreover, as the archaeological context of discovery is well known, the meaning of the polychromy will be analysed in relation with the socio-political and religious purpose with which these artefacts were conceived. The preserved traces of colour will first be documented by coupling visual investigation (with the support of multispectral imaging and UV and VIL videomicroscope) and in-situ analyses (XRF and μRaman) in order to identify the techniques used to colour the statues. Selected micro-samples will undergo further quantitative analyses (PIXE, SEM/EDX, hyperspectral imaging, FT-IR). Finally, literary and epigraphic sources of Proconsular Africa mentioning the colour of statues will be inventoried and the use of colour on the statues will be compared with their counterparts in painting and mosaic.
To follow the project and learn more about the team and the institutions involved, see:
Image © PolyCRomA (University of Liège).
"MANN in Colors", is a research project established in 2018 to study the polychromy of masterpieces of Classical sculpture at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (MANN).
After three successful years, including staggering findings from important pieces of sculpture such as the famous, “Venus in a bikini” statuette and the "Venus marina" from Pompeii (pictured), the project will now enter a new two-year phase, via a prestigious collaboration that will unite the National Archaeological Museum of Naples and the Department of Chemical Sciences and Technologies of the University of Rome "Tor Vergata".
This phase of the project entitled, "ECOValors" (Eco-Sustainable project for Conservation and Valorization of colour traces on Marble sculptures), will take as its point of departure the analytical results obtained by Cristiana Barandoni (creator and scientific curator of the "MANN in Colors" project) and Andrea Rossi (responsible for the diagnostic investigations). The team from the University of Rome, which uses sustainable methodologies, or “Green Chemistry”, for its investigations into issues such as, air quality and pollutants, in relation to cultural heritage, will participate in the creation of a protocol for the conservation and protection of works on whose surfaces traces of colour have been discovered. It is hoped that the creation and dissemination of such a protocol will help institutions worldwide to safeguard the remains of polychromy on their sculpture from environmental effects, for the enjoyment of future generations.
The "Venus in a bikini" (left): recent investigations have shown green pigments present on the tree trunk. The dress of the goddess was also originally embellished with rose madder (right), Egyptian blue and gold.
Image © Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (MANN).
The "Venus Marina" (left): the statue was irradiated with ultraviolet light and the resulting pink luminescence (right) is an unequivocal sign of the ancient use of rose madder.
Image © Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (MANN).
"Therapéia. Polychromie et restauration de la sculpture dans l'antiquité" (Technè vol. 40, 2014, ed. by B. Bourgeois) is now open access!
This richly illustrated volume deals with polychrome sculpture and its conservation in Antiquity. It explores this important yet obscure topic in an interdisciplinary manner, by combining literary, epigraphic and archaeological data with results of in-depth scientific investigation. The love for colour and the care taken in keeping valuable objects in pristine condition, particularly by way of repainting, re-gilding, waxing (ganôsis) is thus demonstrated on objects of various historical contexts: Egyptian wood furniture, Cypriot limestone portraits, ivory sculptures from Macedonian chryselephantine klinai, Greek terracotta figurines, Ptolemaic royal marble head of Berenike II etc. Several of the case-studies deal with objects kept in the Antiquities departments of the Louvre museum.
For open access go to: https://journals.openedition.org/techne/2943
The Call for papers is now OPEN for this special issue, which will collect contributions to the 9th Polychromy Round Table & also invites articles from researchers who may be considering ancient polychromy from the Greco-Roman world & comparative studies from their own interdisciplinary viewpoints, geographical areas & time periods.
For more information, see:
The deadline is 31st December 2021.
The 8th International Round Table, held at the C2RMF in Paris, on 15-16 November 2016, has been published in Technè Journal, vol. 48, 2019.
The printed volume may be purchased online at https://www.lcdpu.fr/revues/techne/ & will be open access from July 2021 at https://journals.openedition.org/techne/
The news of the death of Ian Jenkins (Curator in the Department of Greece and Rome at the British Museum), who passed away on 28th November 2020, was received by all with great sadness.
Ian will be remembered by so many as a dear colleague, mentor and friend who gave his whole working life to the British Museum in a distinguished career which spanned more than 42 years. He was passionate about the study of polychromy in ancient Greek sculpture and architecture.
The following obituaries for Ian have recently been published:
The Telegraph describes Ian as the British Museum curator who opposed calls to return the Elgin marbles to Greece. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/obituaries/2020/12/07/ian-jenkins-british-museum-curator-opposed-calls-return-elgin/
The Guardian publishes an obituary for Ian Jenkins written by former British Museum Deputy Director, Andrew Burnett. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/dec/15/ian-jenkins-obituary
The Times obituary describes Ian as ‘Curator at the British Museum and revered expert on ancient Greece who staunchly opposed calls to return the Elgin Marbles’. Full obituary here.
The Art Newspaper's is written by Susan Walker who describes Ian as ‘a scholar and British Museum curator who enriched all who met him with his passion for classical Greece’. https://www.theartnewspaper.com/feature/ian-jenkins-british-museum-obituary
ARTnews also published an obituary for Ian writing, ‘Jenkins joined the British Museum in 1978 and wound up shaping how ancient Greek art was presented there. As a classics scholar, he was concerned with how the presentation of such architectural works within the museum’s galleries informed the viewer’s perspective...'. https://www.artnews.com/art-news/news/ian-jenkins-british-museum-curator-dead-1234579601/
Ian Dennis Jenkins, classical scholar and archaeologist, born 18 February 1953; died 28 November 2020.
Ian Jenkins in the garden at the British School at Athens. Photograph: British School at Athens.
News from the Getty - The APPEAR (Ancient Panel Paintings, Examination, Analysis and Research) Project, Publication and Second Conference in 2022! - 09/09/2021
Reminder - Special issue of Heritage on "Polychromy in Ancient Sculpture and Architecture" *FREE OF CHARGE* until 31 August 2021 - 25/06/21
Update on the MSCA funded project, "Colorful Indications of (Ex)Change" - Noricum in the Roman Imperial period and Late Antiquity - 03/06/21
PolyCRomA" - The meaning of colour in Roman Africa - 08/04/2021
Call for papers open on Special issue of Heritage on "Polychromy in Ancient Sculpture and Architecture" - 19/02/2021
New publication - Technè Journal, vol. 48 - 16/12/2020
Remembering Ian Jenkins - 16/12/2020
Share this page: