ANCIENT ROME WAS MORE COLORFUL
THAN ANYONE EVER THOUGHT
TECHNOLOGY is providing archaeologists with more evidence that structures in the Roman Forum which we know as white marble, were actually brightly painted in vibrant colors.
It now appears that the Arch of Titus was ablaze with color and not placid white as depicted in conventional renderings (left), according to 3-D optical data capture and ultra-violet visual spectrometry analysis.
Bernard Frischer, a classics and art history professor in the University of Virginia's College of Arts & Sciences, led a team of experts who used cutting-edge technology to find traces of rich yellow pigment on a bas-relief of the menorah on the 1st-Century Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum.
Historical sources describe the menorah looted by the Romans when they destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70 as made of gold. In its heyday, the yellow pigment would have appeared gold from a distance.
Exposed to the elements for centuries, today no traces of pigment are visible to the naked eye. The arch was cleaned and restored in the 1820s.
"For all we knew, any surviving pigment had been scraped off the marble, as has happened all too often in the past with other monuments and statues," Frischer said. A 1999 study "found plenty of discoloration owing to pollution, but no traces of ancient pigment."
Frischer, co-director for technology of the Arch of Titus Digital Restoration Project headed by Steven Fine at Yeshiva University in New York, brought together experts for a pilot project – to use 21st Century technology to seek any remaining traces of pigment.
"This entailed the use of two different technologies with which I am very familiar from earlier projects," Frischer said.
The consultants used non-invasive, 3-D optical data capture and ultra-violet visual spectrometry to determine the chemistry of the pigment deposits.
"UV-VIS spectrometry is still a relatively new technique in Roman archaeology," Frischer said.
Frischer has applied cutting-edge technologies in creating 3-D digital models for polychromy restoration of Roman figures, such as the Virginia Museum of Art's bust of Caligula (above), on behalf of the Virtual World Heritage Laboratory, [link: http://vwhl.clas.v … rginia.edu/] which he founded in July 2009.