Friday, September 08, 2017

Coloring the Arch of Titus

RECONSTRUCTION: Archaeologists Reconstruct How the Arch of Titus Looked – in Full Color. When built, the Arch was not a majestic white stone testimony to Rome crushing the Jews, it was a brightly colored monument aggrandizing Vespasian and his dynasty (Ruth Schuster, Haaretz).
Now Professor Steven Fine of Yeshiva University and his team have "colorized" the Arch of Titus in Rome, based on the discovery that the menorah depicted on the panel showing Roman soldiers parading with treasures looted from the Second Temple in Jerusalem had been painted yellow.

It is absurd to think that the triumphant Romans colored only the menorah, especially as we are realizing they painted everything. The whole Arch was probably a blaze of color that would have complied with the aesthetics of the time, but would make westerners today shudder.


Their reconstruction is theoretical, but is based on common sense and standard Roman iconography, and also the belief that the Romans had a very limited palette. For instance blue was a tough color to synthesize until the 19th century: "They had to use costly lapis lazuli, which decomposes quickly."

Initially they imagined the Roman soldiers shouldering the Temple spoils walking on green grass, but experts on Roman statuary counseled them to use basalt gray. They could surmise that the trumpets had been colored silver (the historian Josephus says as much) and that the background sky was blue, that leaves were green, and so on.  "Our colors are really bright because it's the day they were painted. We took the tone from the yellow and did it across the board," Fine says.
For past posts on the Arch of Titus, including the discovery of yellow pigment on it in 2012 and the follow-up leading to this reconstruction of the Arch, see here and here and follow the links.

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