White marble has generally been considered a typical image of antiquity. However, the lack of colour has no relation to ancient aesthetics. In fact, antiquity cultivated a veritable wealth of colours, but after centuries of deterioration, very little paint remains on the artefacts giving rise to the mistaken notion of white marble as a classical ideal.
Yet the knowledge that ancient art was polychrome does not mark the end of polychromy research. On the contrary: Now research of ancient polychromy can continue acquiring a more comprehensive and detailed knowledge of how the ancient world was coloured and why.
This website is dedicated to the research on the use of colour on sculptures and buildings in the ancient Mediterranean world carried out at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. This research is highly interdisciplinary including scholars in archaeology, philology, conservation science, geology, geochemistry, chemistry, and physics.
On this website you will find a short introduction to the field. But most importantly, the user has access to a database of literature on ancient polychromy and of artefacts in the collections of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek with traces of their original colouring.
Read more here: About
New project: Sensing the Ancient World: The Multiple Dimensions of Ancient Art
The project is runnig from 2018 until 2021 and is funded by the Carlsberg Foundation.
Click here for the description of the project on the Carlsberg Foundation’s homepage.
New publication in Heritage Science on the binding media and coatings of the Palace of Apries, Lower Egypt.
This study gives an account of the organic components (binders and coatings) found in the polychromy of some fragmented architectural reliefs from the Palace of Apries in Memphis, Egypt (26th Dynasty, ca. 589-568 BCE). Samples from the fragments were investigated using FTIR spectroscopy and GC–MS. The detection of polysaccharides in the paint layers on the capital and on two of the fragments indicates the use of plant gums as binding media. The interpretation of the sugar profiles was not straightforward so botanical classification was only possible for one fragment where the results of analysis seem to point to gum arabic. The sample from the same fragment was found to contain animal glue and a second protein material (possibly egg). While the presence of animal glue is probably ascribable to the binder used for the ground layer, the second protein indicates that either the paint layer was bound in a mixture of different binding materials or that the paint layer, bound in a plant gum, was then coated with a proteinaceous material. The surface of two of the investigated samples was partially covered by translucent waxy materials that were identified as a synthetic wax (applied during old conservation treatments) and as beeswax, respectively. It is possible that the beeswax is of ancient origin, selectively applied on yellow areas in order to create a certain glossiness or highlight specific elements.
The study is published in Heritage Science, open access:
Link to the article