Back in 2016, we talked about how –
Classical Greece brings forth reveries of temples, sanctuaries, and sculptures in their distinctly white marble facades. This notion perhaps has to do with the numerous extant ancient Greek specimens of structures (like the famed Parthenon), along with statues preserved in their ‘achromic’ forms in various museums around the globe. But when it comes to historicity, it was probably the opposite that was true. In essence, most tangible artworks and architectural feats (including the Parthenon) of ancient Greece probably showcased their kaleidoscopic flair with brightly painted facades.
The same historical scope was also probably true for the ancient Romans when it came to their impressive architectural, sculptural and artistic feats. Pertaining to these achievements, researchers have digitally reconstructed the famed Arch of Titus’ Menorah Panel in discernible colors that are possibly apt to the period.
The researchers in question here comprise an international team of scientists hailing from reputed institutions, including Yeshiva University, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and Institute for the Visualization of History. And the first step to their reconstruction process entailed the detailed 3D scanning of the Menorah Panel, which allowed them to virtually recreate segments of the relief. The team then proceeded on to scan the panel for remnants of color. Interestingly enough, the researchers did find traces of yellowish tint on the menorah itself, which rather matched with ancient Jewish historian Josephus’ description of how the object appeared golden (during the Roman victory parade). As the Yeshiva University site made it clear –
High-resolution three-dimensional scans of the Menorah and the deification reliefs were made, and part of the Menorah relief was examined to determine whether any traces of paint decoration were preserved. A Breuckmann GmbH 3D scanner was used for the data capture. UV-VIS spectrometry was employed to detect color on the marble reliefs.
The pilot project was a complete success. The scan data were processed to create a 3D representation of the form of the reliefs with sub-millimeter accuracy. Traces of yellow ochre were found on the arms and base of the Menorah. This discovery is consistent with biblical, early Christian, and Talmudic writings and particularly eye-witness descriptions of the golden menorah by the first-century historian Josephus.
The team then went on to connect the dots with the familiar and historical imagery associated with nature, clothing items and objects. For example, the background sky was painted light blue, while the tunics showcased their off-white hues complemented by the reddish-purple tint of over-garments, along with the depictions of green wreaths and golden sacred vessels. And the signs held by these triumphant Romans are partly based on the texts of Josephus.
As for the historical ambit of the Arch of Titus, the monument was constructed by Roman Emperor Domitian, circa 81 – 82 AD, after the death of his brother and predecessor, Emperor Titus. Essentially, the honorific arch commemorates the victories of Titus during the First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 AD), and as such directly alludes to the infamous Roman siege of Jerusalem and destruction of the Second Jewish Temple in 70 AD. Simply put, the Arch of Titus is counted among the rare structures (and artworks) that depict artifacts of the Second Temple, including the aforementioned seven-branched menorah and trumpets.
Now relating to the colorized digital reconstruction of the Arch of Titus’ Menorah Panel, there are obviously detractors who believe in the ‘purity’ of monochromatic profiles. But as Professor Steven Fine of Yeshiva University said (in an interview with Haaretz)-
There is a western trope of black and white being signs of purity. That’s why we live in a ‘white’ city. That’s why New Yorkers wear black and white (and brown) to work. Most people hate the Roman statues in color. They think it looks like a piñata. [But] actually, it was museum curators in Germany who first realized that ancient statues had been colored. They were seeing traces of tint on the rocks. It has become clear only in the last 20 or 30 years that the ancient world was a colorful place.
To that end, the Ara Pacis Augustae (roughly translating to ‘Altar of Augustan Peace’), a monument commissioned by the Roman Senate, on occasion of Augustus’ return to Rome in 13 BC, probably also flaunted its colorful flair. So in case one is interested, in the following video, the resourceful folks over at Altair4 Multimedia have digitally reconstructed the Ara Pacis on its original location, atop a high podium in Campus Martius (currently the monument is housed inside Museo dell’Ara Pacis, an enclosure designed by renowned architect Richard Meier).