Polychromy in Ancient Sculpture and Architecture

A special issue of Heritage (ISSN 2571-9408). This special issue belongs to the section "Museum and Heritage".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 May 2023) | Viewed by 38810

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Special Issue Editor


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Guest Editor
Department of Scientific Research, British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG, UK
Interests: colours and colourants; pigments; dyes; textiles; sculpture; ancient painting techniques and craft practices; noninvasive techniques; multispectral imaging
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Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The subject of colour in the ancient world has long fascinated scholars. Within the realm of Classical art, historians stretching back to the late eighteenth century have periodically addressed the topic that sculpture and architectural elements from the Greco-Roman world, and beyond, were originally highly coloured.

Recently, interest in this field has once more been reinvigorated by the advent of new scientific techniques and methodologies, as well as by a community of diverse and interdisciplinary scholars, dedicated to the study of the polychromy of ancient sculpture and architecture.

Since 2009, this network of scholars has met on a series of occasions, known as the Polychromy Round Table, first held annually and, since 2016, biennially. In 2018, the event was hosted at the British Museum. In the tradition of previous round tables, it provided an excellent opportunity for experts from a wide range of fields (archaeologists, art historians, scientists, conservators and digital humanities professionals) to discuss new research in a stimulating multidisciplinary setting. Papers from a variety of perspectives were encouraged and covered many aspects of polychromy in ancient sculpture and architecture.

This Special Issue collects the contributions to this symposium but, in the inclusive spirit of the Polychromy Round Table and its network, also invites articles from other researchers who may be considering the subject of ancient polychromy from the Greco-Roman world or relevant comparative studies from their own interdisciplinary viewpoints, geographical areas and time periods.

Contributions are therefore invited on, but not restricted to, the following topics:

  • Studies on ancient polychromy from the Greco-Roman world and beyond;
  • Innovative approaches to the study and/or documentation of ancient polychromy (microscopy, spectroscopy, imaging);
  • Studies on ancient pigments, painting techniques and craftsmanship;
  • Investigation of organic molecules that may form part of painted surfaces; pigments, binders or finishes (such as waxes or varnishes);
  • Conservation aspects and challenges in treating the remains of ancient colour;
  • Novel strategies for the reconstruction and/or display of ancient polychrome pieces;
  • Documentation and preservation challenges when dealing with ancient polychrome finds on archaeological sites.

Dr. Joanne Dyer
Guest Editor

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Keywords

  • ancient polychromy
  • ancient pigments
  • ancient painting techniques and craftsmanship
  • conservation
  • reconstruction
  • non-invasive analysis
  • innovative methodologies
  • archaeology
  • documentation

Published Papers (10 papers)

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Research

49 pages, 49279 KiB  
Article
An Achaemenid God in Color
by Susanne Ebbinghaus, Katherine Eremin, Judith A. Lerner, Alexander Nagel and Angela Chang
Heritage 2024, 7(1), 1-49; https://doi.org/10.3390/heritage7010001 - 19 Dec 2023
Viewed by 2071
Abstract
A limestone relief fragment with a figure in a winged disk from the fifth-century BCE Hall of 100 Columns at Persepolis in southwestern Iran that entered the Harvard Art Museums’ collections in 1943 preserves significant traces of its original coloration and has played [...] Read more.
A limestone relief fragment with a figure in a winged disk from the fifth-century BCE Hall of 100 Columns at Persepolis in southwestern Iran that entered the Harvard Art Museums’ collections in 1943 preserves significant traces of its original coloration and has played a key role in the rediscovery of polychromy at the Achaemenid Persian capital. After tracing the fragment’s journey to Cambridge, MA, this article presents the results of recent technical studies of its pigment remains, including visible light-induced infrared luminescence (VIL) imaging, X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectroscopy, and the analysis of micro samples by Raman spectroscopy, Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopy, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and polarizing light microscopy (PLM). The new scientific data is compared to the findings of ongoing investigations of polychromies at Persepolis and other Achaemenid Persian sites and evaluated for the information it can and cannot provide on the original appearance of the figure in the winged disk, likely the Zoroastrian god Ahuramazda. The article reviews past attempts at reconstructing the relief’s coloration and the assumptions that guided them, recounts the experience of creating a tangible three-dimensional color reconstruction for an exhibition, and concludes with some general thoughts on the valuation of colorfulness. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Polychromy in Ancient Sculpture and Architecture)
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29 pages, 22371 KiB  
Article
Investigating Colors and Techniques on the Wall Paintings of the ‘Tomb of the Philosophers’, an Early Hellenistic Macedonian Monumental Cist Tomb in Pella (Macedonia, Greece)
by Hariclia Brecoulaki, Giovanni Verri, Myrina Kalaitzi, Yannis Maniatis and Maria Lilimpaki-Akamati
Heritage 2023, 6(8), 5619-5647; https://doi.org/10.3390/heritage6080296 - 28 Jul 2023
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 2065
Abstract
The ‘Tomb of the Philosophers’, owing its name to the iconographic theme depicted on the interior of its walls, offers a rare example of high-quality early Hellenistic painting, which enhances our knowledge on the use of painting materials and techniques in Greece during [...] Read more.
The ‘Tomb of the Philosophers’, owing its name to the iconographic theme depicted on the interior of its walls, offers a rare example of high-quality early Hellenistic painting, which enhances our knowledge on the use of painting materials and techniques in Greece during the late 4th–early 3rd century BC. The tomb was excavated in 2001 by the 17th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, in the area of the east cemetery of the ancient city of Pella and is among the largest built cist graves to have been found in the region to date. This article presents the results of a scientific investigation of the painting materials and techniques used in the tomb’s decoration by means of high-resolution visible- and raking-light imaging, broadband imaging (IRR, UIL, UVR, VIL), X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy and SEM-EDAX microanalysis on a representative number of samples. The examination of the paintings testifies to the application of elaborate painting techniques and to the use of a varied and rich chromatic ‘palette’ (iron oxides, Egyptian blue, malachite, conichalcite, cinnabar, lead white, carbon-based black, a purple organic colorant, yellow-orange arsenic and vanadium-based pigments). Furthermore, iconographic elements of the paintings were better visualized, allowing for a more accurate description and interpretation of the decorative program of the tomb. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Polychromy in Ancient Sculpture and Architecture)
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29 pages, 45198 KiB  
Article
Minerva in Colours: First Results on a Polychrome Roman Sculpture from Carnuntum (Pannonia)
by Gabrielle Kremer, Robert Linke, Georg Plattner, Eduard Pollhammer, Marina Brzakovic, Robert Krickl, Nirvana Silnovic and Václav Pitthard
Heritage 2023, 6(7), 5213-5241; https://doi.org/10.3390/heritage6070277 - 11 Jul 2023
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 3431
Abstract
This paper presents the first results of a current interdisciplinary research project on the polychromy of Roman provincial stone artefacts in selected areas of the Danubian provinces (PolychroMon). The statuary group of Minerva and the Genius immunium from Carnuntum (Archaeological Museum Carnuntinum inv. [...] Read more.
This paper presents the first results of a current interdisciplinary research project on the polychromy of Roman provincial stone artefacts in selected areas of the Danubian provinces (PolychroMon). The statuary group of Minerva and the Genius immunium from Carnuntum (Archaeological Museum Carnuntinum inv. CAR-S-48) is dated to the second half of the second century AD and still retains traces of the original polychromy. The aim was to focus on non-invasive techniques and to employ micro-invasive methods for necessary cross-checking and gaining information otherwise not accessible. The investigation revealed that paint was applied on a layer of white lime wash. Additionally, the object shows several traces of Egyptian blue, which was mainly detected in Minerva’s and the Genius’ clothes. Other pigments whose traces were found on the sculpture include green earth, yellow and red ochre, as well as red lead and carbon black. Microscopic analysis confirms the presence of modern-age compounds as well (barium sulphate and zinc oxide) used for modern retouches. Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry revealed the use of egg as the major proteinaceous binding medium in the red lead polychromy. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Polychromy in Ancient Sculpture and Architecture)
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23 pages, 7354 KiB  
Article
Tracking Trajectories: Projecting Polychromy onto a Roman Relief from a Scottish Castle
by Louisa Campbell
Heritage 2023, 6(4), 3722-3744; https://doi.org/10.3390/heritage6040197 - 14 Apr 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2402
Abstract
The Antonine Wall Distance Sculptures are iconic and unique sculptural reliefs that marked Rome’s most north-westerly frontier across central Scotland. Their inscribed texts and iconography depict graphic tales of frontier life, and recent non-invasive analysis has confirmed they were originally brought to life [...] Read more.
The Antonine Wall Distance Sculptures are iconic and unique sculptural reliefs that marked Rome’s most north-westerly frontier across central Scotland. Their inscribed texts and iconography depict graphic tales of frontier life, and recent non-invasive analysis has confirmed they were originally brought to life through vibrant polychromy. This paper tracks the trajectory of one Distance Sculpture that was embedded into the dramatic setting of Dunnottar Castle off the north-east coast of Scotland during the 16th century, where it was recorded as having been repainted during that episode of use. A suite of complementary analytical techniques, including pXRF, FTIR, and SEM/EDS, was recently reported on which identified pigments and surface treatments as well as their chronology of application, confirmed through stratigraphic sequencing visible in cross-section. That approach facilitated the investigation of all episodes in the itinerary of this iconic sculpted relief from the second century to the Scottish Renaissance. That vanguard research has provided an unprecedented opportunity to unravel the rich hidden history behind this unique monumental inscription and re-tell a fascinating transformational tale of a pivotal period in its past. The combination of historical, archaeological, and scientific approaches to an understudied, and overlooked, phenomenon of post-antique colouration is revolutionary in polychromy studies. It provides innovative and well-contextualised information that lifts an aesthetically modest Roman monument into a vibrant, colourful, and sumptuous decorative feature fit to grace the walls of a Renaissance castle emulating Roman imperial practices. We can now trace its journey through time by delving into the detail of its Renaissance repainting to present, for the first time, an accurate digital reconstruction as it performed for 16th century audiences. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Polychromy in Ancient Sculpture and Architecture)
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20 pages, 8819 KiB  
Article
Color and Light: A Hellenistic Terracotta Figurine of a Maenad from Myrina
by Brigitte Bourgeois, Giovanni Verri and Violaine Jeammet
Heritage 2023, 6(3), 3005-3024; https://doi.org/10.3390/heritage6030160 - 12 Mar 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2451
Abstract
During the Hellenistic period and under the growing influence of the art of painting, the polychromy of Greek terracotta figurines focused not only on an elaborate rendering of color, but also on the interplay of light and shadow. Some of the best-preserved examples [...] Read more.
During the Hellenistic period and under the growing influence of the art of painting, the polychromy of Greek terracotta figurines focused not only on an elaborate rendering of color, but also on the interplay of light and shadow. Some of the best-preserved examples clearly show the subtlety of such pictorial effects. Among them is a statuette of a standing Maenad, held in the collections of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens (inv. 5000). Dating back to 150–100 BCE, it is a high-quality testament to the sculptural, as well as pictorial, coroplastic production in the workshops of Myrina (Eolide, Turkey). Combining multi-scale examination, multi-spectral imaging and non-invasive spectroscopic investigations (XRF, FTIR, FORS), a scientific study of the artefact was carried out within the framework of the Pilina project, a collaborative research program between the Louvre, the C2RMF, the National Archaeological Museum and the French School in Athens. This article presents the main results of the study by discussing the color scheme, identification of some pigments and colorants (clays of the kaolinite group, ochres, cinnabar, Egyptian blue, an anthraquinone of plant origin, likely madder, gold leaf), and painting techniques aiming at achieving chiaroscuro effects. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Polychromy in Ancient Sculpture and Architecture)
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41 pages, 166726 KiB  
Article
Palmyrene Polychromy: Investigations of Funerary Portraits from Palmyra in the Collections of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen
by Cecilie Brøns, Jens Stenger, Jørn Bredal-Jørgensen, Fabiana Di Gianvincenzo and Luise Ørsted Brandt
Heritage 2022, 5(2), 1199-1239; https://doi.org/10.3390/heritage5020063 - 1 Jun 2022
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 4957
Abstract
The current study is the first comprehensive investigation of the polychromy of Palmyrene funerary portraits. It presents the technical examinations of six portraits (ca. 150–250 CE) from the collection of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, illustrating the marvellous splendour of the cultural heritage of [...] Read more.
The current study is the first comprehensive investigation of the polychromy of Palmyrene funerary portraits. It presents the technical examinations of six portraits (ca. 150–250 CE) from the collection of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, illustrating the marvellous splendour of the cultural heritage of ancient Palmyra. The six portraits were examined with various analytical methods, including microscopy, ultraviolet-induced visible fluorescence imaging and visible light-induced infrared luminescence imaging, X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, scanning electron microscopy coupled to energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. Finally, two samples were collected for liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry to obtain the amino acid sequence information. Various pigments were detected in the polychromy including lapis lazuli, pyromorphite, mimetite, yellow ochre, red ochre, a red lake, lead carbonate, zinc oxide, bone black, and charcoal black. The proteinaceous binding medium was identified as collagen-based and possibly also keratin-based animal glue. The examinations of the Palmyrene portraits in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek have proven that these artefacts, despite their current uniform, white appearance, originally presented themselves in a wealth of colours. This is illustrated by the digital reconstructions carried out of two of the examined portraits, which show how the original painting of these portraits would have given them an entirely different expression from what we see today. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Polychromy in Ancient Sculpture and Architecture)
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20 pages, 8459 KiB  
Article
Ancient Restoration in Roman Polychromy: Detecting Aesthetic Changes?
by Elisabetta Neri, Nesrine Nasr and David Strivay
Heritage 2022, 5(2), 829-848; https://doi.org/10.3390/heritage5020045 - 6 Apr 2022
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 3573
Abstract
Few instances of material evidence for ancient colour restorations have been documented over the last 20 years, during which time the scientific approach to the study of polychromy has been defined. This article presents eight new cases of ancient restoration of colour from [...] Read more.
Few instances of material evidence for ancient colour restorations have been documented over the last 20 years, during which time the scientific approach to the study of polychromy has been defined. This article presents eight new cases of ancient restoration of colour from the Roman Imperial Age. By combining observations in visible and UV light and video microscopy with a micro-stratigraphic approach, MA-X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, and contextual archaeological data, we have observed evidence which could suggest an aesthetic change in the use of colour between the 2nd and 4th centuries CE: from polychrome and multitone effects to the use of monochromatic, flat, and uniform colour finishes. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Polychromy in Ancient Sculpture and Architecture)
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32 pages, 69802 KiB  
Article
Architectural Polychromy on the Athenian Acropolis: An In Situ Non-Invasive Analytical Investigation of the Colour Remains
by Eleni Aggelakopoulou, Sophia Sotiropoulou and Georgios Karagiannis
Heritage 2022, 5(2), 756-787; https://doi.org/10.3390/heritage5020042 - 1 Apr 2022
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 5154
Abstract
The preservation of the Athenian Acropolis monuments constitutes an ongoing top-priority national project of global significance and impact. The project concerning the analytical investigation of the polychromy of the Acropolis monuments presented in this paper was part of the Acropolis Restoration Service (YSMA) [...] Read more.
The preservation of the Athenian Acropolis monuments constitutes an ongoing top-priority national project of global significance and impact. The project concerning the analytical investigation of the polychromy of the Acropolis monuments presented in this paper was part of the Acropolis Restoration Service (YSMA) program (2011–2015), regarding the restoration of the two corners of the west entablature of the Parthenon, which exhibited severe static damage, and a parallel restoration program of the Propylaea. The scope of this research was to investigate the materials in the paint decoration remains on the monuments by applying, entirely in situ, numerous non-invasive techniques on selected architectural members of the Parthenon and the Propylaea. The research focused, mainly, on surfaces where traces of colour or decoration patterns were visible to the naked eye. Furthermore, surfaces that are referred to in the literature as decorated but that are currently covered with weathering crusts (of white or black colour) and/or layers of patina (of yellowish and orange-brown hue), were also examined. The techniques applied in situ on the Acropolis monuments were X-ray fluorescence, micro-Raman, and Fourier Transform InfraRed (FTIR) spectroscopic techniques, conducted with the use of handheld or portable instruments. The scientific data gathered in situ are discussed in this paper to enhance our knowledge of the architectural polychromy of the classical period. Further investigation by applying analytical techniques on a few selected micro-samples would be highly complementary to this present work. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Polychromy in Ancient Sculpture and Architecture)
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21 pages, 57425 KiB  
Article
An Insight into Gandharan Art: Materials and Techniques of Polychrome Decoration
by Anna Lluveras-Tenorio, Alessia Andreotti, Fabio Talarico, Stefano Legnaioli, Luca M. Olivieri, Maria Perla Colombini, Ilaria Bonaduce and Simona Pannuzi
Heritage 2022, 5(1), 488-508; https://doi.org/10.3390/heritage5010028 - 2 Mar 2022
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 4594
Abstract
Gandharan art developed in the Himalayan area in the early centuries CE. It has been investigated mostly from an iconographic point of view, missing, until very recently, a systematic technical investigation of materials and techniques. Recently our team began performing chemical analyses of [...] Read more.
Gandharan art developed in the Himalayan area in the early centuries CE. It has been investigated mostly from an iconographic point of view, missing, until very recently, a systematic technical investigation of materials and techniques. Recently our team began performing chemical analyses of the traces of the polychromy originally covering statues, reliefs and architectural decorations, to discover the ancient painting techniques and artistic technologies. This paper presents the results of the analytical investigation (optical microscopy, Raman spectroscopy and gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry) of pigments, ground layers and binders of a new group of samples taken from stucco architectural decorations (2nd–3rd/4th centuries CE). The samples were collected directly at an archaeological site in the Swat Valley, ensuring the exact knowledge of their stratigraphic provenance, as well as the absence of any restoration treatment applied prior sampling. The results are discussed in the wider context of Gandharan polychromy investigated so far by our team, as found in sculptures and architectural decorations preserved in museums (in Italy and France) and in archaeological excavations in Pakistan. The aim of this research is to shed light on the materials and techniques of this Buddhist ancient art from this region and on the influences exerted on it from Eastern and Western artistic traditions. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Polychromy in Ancient Sculpture and Architecture)
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13 pages, 3035 KiB  
Article
Portrait of an Etruscan Athletic Official: A Multi-Analytical Study of a Painted Terracotta Wall Panel
by Monica Ganio, Douglas MacLennan, Marie Svoboda, Claire Lyons and Karen Trentelman
Heritage 2021, 4(4), 4596-4608; https://doi.org/10.3390/heritage4040253 - 9 Dec 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 3786
Abstract
The Getty’s Etruscan painted terracotta wall panel, Athletic Official, recently has been speculated to be associated with a Caeretan wall panel depicting a Discobolus based on a shared iconography. To better understand the materials and techniques used to create the Getty panel and [...] Read more.
The Getty’s Etruscan painted terracotta wall panel, Athletic Official, recently has been speculated to be associated with a Caeretan wall panel depicting a Discobolus based on a shared iconography. To better understand the materials and techniques used to create the Getty panel and investigate its relation to extant Etruscan painted terracotta panels, a multi-analytical study was conducted, using broadband visible, IR, and UV imaging, along with scanning MA-XRF, FORS, Raman, SEM-EDS, and XRD analytical techniques. The analytical results together with PCA analysis suggest the clay support of the Getty panel is most similar in composition to that of panels from Cerveteri. A manganese black was identified in the decorative scheme; not commonly employed, this appears to be an important marker for the workshop practice in Cerveteri. Most significantly, the use of MA-XRF scanning allowed for invisible ruling lines on the Athletic Official, presumably laid down at the earliest stages of the creation of the panel, to be visualized. Taken together, the results of this study provide new insights into Caeretan workshop practice as well as provide a framework for better understanding the design and execution of Etruscan polychromy. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Polychromy in Ancient Sculpture and Architecture)
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