Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

Norway’s National Museum acquires rare Artemisia Gentileschi painting

Friday, September 30th, 2022

The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo has acquired a rare work by Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith and her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes (1639-40). Donated to the museum by philanthropic the DNB Savings Bank Foundation, it is one of very few paintings by the Baroque master that is unambiguous in its attribution because she signed her name in Judith’s sword. The painting was only previously known from an old black and white photograph, so until this acquisition, art historians had no idea it was signed.

Judith slaying Holofernes was a subject Artemisia revisited repeatedly. This is one of her later versions. The fine weave of the canvas indicates it was not of Italian origin, which means she has to have painted it when she was in London working with her father and brothers on commissions from King Charles I between the end of 1638 and her return to Naples in 1640.

The painting will join other works by Artemisia Gentileschi at the National Museum. These include the early work Saint Catharine of Alexandria (1614–15), on loan from a private collection, and The Penitent Mary Magdalene (1640). The National Museum also holds an earlier Judith and her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes, painted by Artemisia’s father Orazio Gentileschi (between 1608 and 1612), on which she must have worked while she was in training at her father’s studio. The new acquisition means that the National Museum is the museum with the most works by Artemisia Gentileschi outside of Italy.

“We are happy that this masterpiece now will be on display at the National Museum in Oslo. Now, the museum can show four paintings by Artemisia Gentileschi, and this is rare for any museum,” says Manager for Art and culture in the DNB Savings Bank Foundation, Anders Bjørnsen.

The painting will only be on display for a few weeks before it travels to Naples for an exhibition, Artemisia Gentileschi in Naples, at the Gallerie d’Italia. The exhibition focuses on the decade she spent living and working Naples (1630-1640), which includes the two year detour in London. Judith and her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes will return to Oslo in March 2023.


Tang Dynasty dancing horse gets tassel removed

Tuesday, September 6th, 2022

A tassel on the forehead of a terracotta Dancing Horse sculpture from the Tang Dynasty (618–907 A.D.) has been unmasked as an impostor, an error of restoration instead of an original design element. The horse has been in the collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum for 25 years, but the truth has only come to light now thanks to cutting edge analysis by scientists at the University of Cincinnati.

Donated to the Cincinnati museum by a collector in 1997, the dancing horse dates back to the Tang dynasty when such sculptures were commissioned for the express purpose of entombing them with royalty upon their deaths, [East Asian art curator Hou-mei] Sung said.

Dancing horses were trained to move in time with a drumbeat. Sung said Emperor Xuanzong from the eighth century loved horses so much that he had a stable of more than 40,000. For one birthday celebration, he invited a troupe of 400 dancing horses to perform the “Song of the Upturned Cup.”

“During the dramatic finale, one horse would bend its knees and clench a cup in its mouth and offer wine to the ruler to wish him longevity,” Sung said. “This became a ritual.”

The unfired earthenware horse is 26 inches high and 24 inches long and was made in the 8th century. It stands with one front leg raised in a prancing posture. He wears a small saddle with silk panels hanging down each side. His lush main is painted a reddish brown, as are nine tassels on draped over the horse’s haunches and shoulders, attached to a dark painted strap that had faded with time.

Then there is the tenth tassel, with the same curling pattern and reddish-brown pigment as the others, only this one is mounted to the front of the horse’s head as if it were a unicorn horn. Other Tang Dynasty dancing horses have decorative tassels too, but none of them are on the forehead.

The horse’s conservation history is writ all over its body. It has suffered multiple breaks and repairs, and conservators have long suspected the anomalous placement of the tassel on the forehead was a restoration artifact rather than an atypical original design element. Sung sought out the aid of UC College of Arts and Sciences assistant professor of chemistry Pietro Strobbia to investigate the origin of the tassels.

To answer some of the fundamental questions about the piece, the museum agreed to allow UC’s Strobbia and collaborators such as Claudia Conti at Italy’s Institute of Heritage Science to take 11 tiny samples for analysis.

“We judged the risk was worth the reward to answer the question,” Rectenwald said.

Researchers deployed a battery of molecular, chemical and mineralogical tests of the masterpiece and its features using cutting-edge techniques such as X-ray powder diffraction, ionic chromatography and Raman spectroscopy.

The testing found that the unicorn tassel was indeed not original. It’s not even terracotta. It’s made of plaster and was affixed to the horse with animal glue. Two of the other tassels were also later replacements, but are made of different materials and were affixed with different adhesives, so the three were each replaced during different restorations. When the forehead tassel was removed, the terracotta underneath it was smooth instead of scored, further evidence that it was not original.

The results of the investigation have been published in the journal Heritage Science and can be read in its entirety here. The de-tasselled horse will join its brethren from other periods at the Cincinnati Art Museum in Galloping Through Dynasties, an exhibition dedicated to the long history of the horse in Chinese painting, metalwork and sculpture. It runs from October 7th through January 1st, 2023.


Getty returns unique Greek terracotta sculptural group

Monday, August 29th, 2022

The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles is returning one of its greatest treasures to Italy: a group of life-sized terracotta statues of a seated poet with two sirens from the 4th century B.C. The sculptural group was bought by J. Paul Getty himself and has been on display continuously since 1976. An unrelated investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit following the loot-strewn trail of antiquities trafficker Gianfranco Becchina uncovered evidence that the sculptures had been illegally excavated and exported shortly before they were fenced to the Getty.

The sculptures were crafted around 350-300 B.C. in the Greek colony of Tarentum in the heel of Italy’s boot, today the region of Puglia. The sirens have the heads and torsos of women with the legs and talons of birds gripping rocky perches. They wear short, wind-swept chitons strapped over the breasts. The poet is seated and holding a plektron (a lyre pick) in his right hand. The lyre that was once in the crook of his left arm is lost. They are virtually complete, and even some of the hair curls broken off the head of one of the sirens are still with the group, so vanishingly rare a circumstance that it alone should have telegraphed that the group was dug up intact and smuggled out of the country. It was originally painted in vivid colors, and there are rare surviving traces of that original polychromy still visible on the terracotta surface.

“It is a very important work. I’d even say one of the most important in the [Getty Museum’s] collection,” Getty Museum director Timothy Potts said in an interview. “So it will be a loss as to what we can represent about the art of the ancient classical world, in this case southern Italy in the late fourth century B.C.”

Potts said the work is especially unique because of its scale, quality and subject matter — it suggests the mythical story of Jason and the Argonauts, which would make the sculpture’s seated man, who plays a harp-like instrument, Orpheus.

“It’s just extremely rare and there’s nothing similar in our collection, or closely similar in any collection,” Potts said. “It does leave a hole in our gallery but with this evidence that came forth, there was no question that it needed to be sent back to Italy.”

The group was one of the last archaeological treasures acquired by J. Paul Getty before his death in June of 1976. He wrote in his diary entry from March 6th, 1976:

Bought the following objects: [long list of antiquities, their cost and who he bought them from.] A group of 3 Greek statues made in Tarentum at the end of the 4th c. B.C. They represent a singer Orpheus seated and 2 standing sirens, $550,000 from Bank Leu. All these naturally were on Frel’s recommendation.

Bank Leu was a bank in Zurich, a classic middleman for the traffic in looted antiquities. Frel was Jiří Frel, the Getty Museum’s antiquities curator at the time. The 550K Getty paid for the terracotta group is the equivalent of about  $3 million today, but its current market value was assessed by the Trafficking Unit as $8 million.

The group has been removed from display and Getty experts are now figuring out how to ship the fragile objects to Italy without damaging them. Custom equipment will be involved. The sculptures will be repatriated to Italy next month. After a short stint on display at Rome’s new Museum of Rescued Art, the group will go on permanent display in their hometown of Taranto.


Conserving an 18th c. portrait and the waistcoat in it

Monday, August 1st, 2022

The Victoria & Albert Museum has recently made a rare double acquisition of an 18th century portrait and the exact silk waistcoat the sitter is wearing in the painting. Both objects are currently undergoing conservation.

The portrait of Edward Curtis of Mardyke House, Bristol, was painted by Italian portraitist Marco Benefial in 1750. Edward Curtis bought the waistcoat as part of a suit with matching coat while he was on the Continent. His father had made a fortune in the sugar trade, and Edward, then 24 years old, traveled through Europe on the Grand Tour as expected of every wealthy young Englishman of the time. Buying elegant new clothes in France was on the de rigeur checklist for Grand Tourists. Getting your portrait done in Rome wearing your new French silk brocade suit was too.

The waistcoat was made of luxurious brocaded Gros de Tours taffeta embellished with three different types of metal threads (two silver and one gold) woven into a stylized shell pattern. Roses with two leaves are brocaded in red, yellow, purple and green colored silk threads on the front and back. The weaving technique employed is typical of the master weavers of Lyon in France, but the quality of the execution in this waistcoat is a step down from that, suggesting it was woven in Lyon style elsewhere, perhaps in Tours. Nineteen of the original buttons, silver metal star-shaped ornaments over a wooden core, have survived. The original matching jacket, alas, has not.

When conservators began their work, the waistcoat in the portrait no longer matched the color of the waistcoat itself. Discolored varnish had yellowed the light silver background of the vest, and centuries of dust had darkened the surface. The waistcoat was actually in better superficial condition than the portrait. It has been altered over time, with panels added to the back to make room for a Mr. Curtis’ middle aged spread, but the brocaded silk has been lovingly tended to and required very little conservatorial intervention.


Muses in the Getty lab

Saturday, July 30th, 2022

The J. Paul Getty Museum has created a fascinating online exhibit about the challenging conservation of a group of reliefs from a lost Roman sarcophagus. Muses in the Lab: Conserving a Roman Sarcophagus on Google Arts & Culture is an easily scrollable, annotated and illustrated play-by-play of the conservation of a fragmentary high relief from a large sarcophagus that features a woman seated next to three standing muses.

The seated woman was likely the deceased. Facing her is Terpsichore, muse of dancing and choral song holding a lyre. Beside her in the center of the composition is Thalia, muse of comedy, holding the top of a comic mask. She wears a netted catsuit similar to ones seen in sculpture of comedic actors in costume. On the right is Euterpe, muse of music and lyric poetry, holding her double-pipes in both hands.

A second group of fragments from this sarcophagus are from the right front corner. Melpomene, muse of tragedy, stands in front of a draped curtain holding a tragic mask. The right end of the sarcophagus is attached to this fragment. It features a low relief of a beaded man holding a book roll. There’s also a bundle of book rolls at his feet, suggesting he may be a representation of a writer, likely a tragic poet given his location next to Melpomene.

The main group is 54 inches high by 88 inches wide and would have been the central scene in the front of a massive sarcophagus.  Its style dates it to the mid-3rd century A.D. The Getty acquired it from a New York art dealer in 1972. They knew nothing of his history before that and there is still no information about its origin. Both the front scene and the right corner were on display together from 1974 until the 1980s when they were taken down and put in storage.

Conservators revisited the reliefs in 2018 as part of the reinstallation of the museum’s antiquities collection. They found that the quality of the carving was exceptional, almost entirely in the round and every single surface, even the ones in the background behind the figures, is polished and shaped. The marble sculpting is so extraordinary that conservators believe it was done in Rome itself. If that is true, it would be the largest sarcophagus of its type known to have been produced in Rome.

Unfortunately, the fragments had not fared well in storage. They were in poor condition, with cracked, discolored joins from all kinds of different materials applied in past restorations. The pinning methods used to hold the reliefs together had damaged the marble and were no longer stable.

In order the correct past mistakes and reassemble the reliefs with modern conservatorial principles of non-invasive reversibility, the Getty team had to separate all of the fragments, remove the bad joins and pins, then put it all back together again. There were almost 50 fragments so it was a challenging job. During the painstaking cleaning of the fragments, conservators were delighted to discover the remains of the ancient polychromy, mostly purple, that added detail and vivacity to the sculpture.

When it came time to piece the fragments back together again, the conservation team took an innovative approach. They inserted steel sleeves into the already existing holes and fitted pins into the sleeves. Magnets were placed inside the ends of the pins and the sleeves. That way the fragments connect via the magnetic pins, meaning there is no need for adhesives and the fragments can be dismantled in minutes. Lastly, they created a custom mount that works with the new pinning system to keep the group secured.

The right corner group with Melpomene and the bearded man was not added to the display for practical reasons. The corner piece would make it necessary to block out a display place the equivalent of the large sarcophagus, most of that empty space. The group of four are discretely mounted to the wall.

The online exhibit lays out the complications of the restoration process, how conservators have to devise new solutions to fix their predecessors’ mistakes, the role modern design and technology can play to improve the display and long-term care of formerly abused antiquities.


“Second Sistine Chapel” restored at Europe’s oldest hospital

Friday, July 22nd, 2022

The magnificent Renaissance ward of the oldest hospital in Europe, the complex of Santo Spirito in Saxia on the Vatican banks of the Tiber in Rome, has been restored. Two years of work have repaired the carved wooden ceiling, the masonry and the interior and exterior plaster, reviving the huge expanse of frescoes and polychrome painted wood architectural elements.

The hospital started out as more of a hostel. The Schola Saxonum was founded in 727 by King Ine of Wessex on the ancient site of the pleasure gardens of the villa of Agrippina the Elder, daughter of  Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa and Julia, daughter of Augustus. Located on the Tiber under the shadow of Constantine’s ancient basilica of St. Peter’s, the schola provided accomodation and assistance to English travelers on pilgrimage ad limina apostolorum (“to the threshold of the apostles”). No fewer than 10 English kings, Alfred the Great among them, are known to have lived there for extended stays when they made their pilgrimages to Rome. In 794, one of those kings, Offa of Mercia, funded the addition of a xenodochio, a small building where strangers could get a little food and sleep, to the schola’s church.

Damaged by repeated fires and Saracen raids in the 9th century, the Schola Saxonum was repaired around 850 and again in the 11th century, but its use as accommodations for the crowned heads of Northern Europe was over by then. There were no Anglo-Saxon crowned heads after the Norman Conquest of England, for one thing, and Rome was no longer the only game in town when it came to major relics and martyrdom sites. Santiago de Compostela drew in huge numbers of pilgrims to venerate the relics of Saint James the Apostle. By the end of the 12th century, Canturbury was the premier destination for English pilgrims, drawn by the martyrdom site and miraculous relics of Saint Thomas Becket, and the schola in Rome languished from neglect.

Then Innocent III had a dream. Several, actually. In 1198, the Pope was plagued by a series of recurring dreams in which fishermen on the Tiber drew up the bodies of infants in their nets, illegitimate babies thrown into the river by adulterous women seeking to eliminate the living evidence of their sin. The fishermen presented the corpses of these drowned babies to the horrified pope. An angel then commanded Innocent to build a hospice for exposed babies.

He rebuilt the schola and xenodochio into a hospital dedicated to the care of abandoned infants, the sick and indigent. Built into one of the exterior walls was a “wheel of the exposed,” a wooden lazy susan behind a little door on which infants could be placed anonymously.

In 1471, the hospital was ravaged by a fire that left it in shambles. The newly-elected Pope Sixtus IV visited the hospital and decried its dark, airless, crumbling environment. He ordered a full reconstruction of the facilities in anticipation of the upcoming 1475 jubilee year. The resulting structure, dubbed the Corsie Sistine (“Sistine Wards”), was the first example of Renaissance civic architecture built in Rome.

The hall is 120 meters (394 feet) long and 12 meters (39 feet) wide. It is divided into two spaces by an octagonal tiburio (a tower or lantern over the crossing of the galleries). Under the tiburio in the center of the Corsie is a ciborium (a canopy built four columns over an altar) that is the only known work in Rome of Renaissance master architect Andrea Palladio. The long walls facing each other are frescoed with more than 60 scenes depicting the founding of the hospital by Innocent III on one side and the life of Sixtus IV on the other. That’s 13,000 square feet of frescoes. You can see why it’s compared to the other Sistine Chapel, also built by Sixtus IV (although that one was famously frescoed under the papacy of his nephew, Julius II).

Soon hospitals built on the model of Santo Spirito in Saxia sprang up all over Europe. Before Innocent III’s dream, there were no hospitals dedicated to the care of the indigent and abandoned babies. By the end of the 15th century, there were 1,000 of them. Today the Renaissance ward is part of the modern Santo Spirito hospital complex and care and maintenance of the historic building played second fiddle to the hospital’s primary focus on patient care and medical research.

Financed by the Lazio Region for the ASL Roma 1, the restoration work has also focused on the ciborium which over the centuries, says the restorer Maria Rosaria Di Napoli, was “marked by dirt and [water] percolation from above. The greatest difficulty is balancing the different materials , because this is a jewel: we have polychrome and gilded wood, stucco, canvas, marbles. The colors were hardly seen anymore. Even the lantern, all made of wood, due to the water, had lost a lot of pictorial surface.

The Corsie Sistine is now open to visitors. In future, more historic hospitals in Italy are slated for restoration in a new initiative by the culture ministry to promote their extraordinarily deep bench of architecture and art off the beaten path of museums, churches and grand palazzi.


Seven tons of iron nails in one fort!

Thursday, July 21st, 2022

The latest online talk from the Yorkshire Museum’s Ryedale Hoard series is so good I was rapt the whole time. (Actual footage.) →

Entitled Metals, Making and Magic: The Smith in Roman Britain, the talk was delivered by Dr. Owen Humphreys of the Museum of London Archaeology, an expert in Roman ironwork. He opens with a bang by summarizing the enormous differences in metalworking production between Iron Age Britain (even after contact with the Empire was well-established) and Roman Britain. Despite the name of the era, very few iron nails have been found at Iron Age British sites, whereas Roman archaeological sites even from the earliest years of the conquest is full of metal.

The title of this post is a reference to one salient example: The Roman legionary fortress of Inchtuthil in Scotland was built in 82/3 A.D. to garrison troops for Roman governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola’s invasion of Scotland. He was recalled by Emperor Domitian in 85 A.D. and the fort was abandoned less than two years later. The buildings were dismantled and all of the iron nails removed and buried in a large pit. When archaeologists excavated the site in the early 1950s, they found seven tons of iron nails in that pit. Seven tons of nails. More than 875,000 of them. (Plus another three tons of assorted iron objects.) Granted, Inchtuthil was a big fort with barracks, a hospital building, a workshop and other buildings, but it’s a startling example of the scale of Roman metalwork only 40 years after the conquest.

Humphreys then delves into the craft itself — its cultural depictions, tools, differences between Roman smithing and local techniques. If you watch nothing else, watch the Humphrey’s explanation of the lost wax method of casting bronze starting 40 minutes in. He uses the bust of Marcus Aurelius from the Ryedale Hoard as a model to illustrate how the process worked. It’s probably the clearest brief explanation of the technique I’ve ever seen. Also extra points for listing Pliny’s recipes for bronze, different depending on what was being made with it. 

Okay watch!  


Gilded crossbow trophy returned to Dresden

Sunday, July 17th, 2022

An early 17th century silver trophy stolen from Dresden’s City Hall in the chaos following the end of World War II has been returned to the city by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The trophy commemorates the victory of Elector Johann Georg I of Saxony at Dresden’s Witsun crossbow shooting competition in 1618. The shoots had been held since the early 15th century, at least, and it became tradition for winners to donate engraved silver trophies to the city of Dresden. After his win, Johann Georg I commissioned the gilded silver shield 22 centimeters (8.7 inches) in diameter engraved with his coat of arms and a wonderfully specific inscription:

“For God’s honor and Christian hearth I battle as long as my life lasts. By God’s grace Johann Georg, Duke of Saxony, Jülich, Cleve, and Berg, Arch Marshall of the Holy Roman Empire, and after the death of Emperor Matthias, in his most laudable memory, Imperial Vicarius for the second time; Landgrave in Thuringia, Markgrave of Meissen, Burggrave of Magdeburg, Count of the Mark and Ravensberg, Lord of Ravenstein, has shot down the Pentecost bird this 27th of May in the 1618th year; yet this shield was made in the 1619th year.”

The Schützenschild took its place in the council treasury. In 1888, the City Council’s silver collection became part of the permanent collection of the newly-opened Dresden City Museum. The treasure was removed for its protection during World War II and stored in the basement of City Hall. Its location provided protection from the Allied bombing that devastated the city, but not from post-war looting. The trophy disappeared in 1945 along with other objects from the Dresden city treasure.

It would emerge again a decade later in, where else, Switzerland. It was bought by a private collector at a 1956 auction in Basel. That collector bequeathed the trophy to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1977. At that time, its true origins were not known, but when the museum did some research in 2016, it came across a listing of the lost silver in the German Lost Art Database. Museum officials contacted the Stadtmuseum Dresden and formally recognized them as the owners of the Schützenschild. The Philadelphia Museum of Art published their findings in 2019. Repatriation arrangements were made but the pandemic delayed the return until this year. In June, the trophy returned to Dresden.


Viking jewelry of mysterious origins donated to museum

Saturday, July 16th, 2022

A previously unrecorded set of jewelry once worn by an elite Viking woman was donated to the University of Stavanger’s Museum of Archaeology in Norway. The set consists of two oval openwork bronze brooches with traces of the original silver plating, a string of more than 50 variegated beads and a bronze bracelet. A mosaic bead dates the group to around 850 A.D., the early Viking Age.

Museum archaeologists have been scouring the archives since the appearance of the jewelry to investigate the set’s possible origin. All the donors knew is that they were found in the tiny farming village of Frafjord on the southwest coast of Norway, an area with very little archaeological material from the Viking Age. They had no idea exactly where or when. One notable Viking find was made there in 1955: the remains of a funerary boat 23 feet long that was the grave of a woman buried with an axe, a shield, scissors, a heckle (a board used to split fibers for spinning) and an iron weaving sword.

There was no jewelry in the grave, however, which most certainly would have been part of her funerary attire. The two oval brooches pinned up an apron dress at the shoulders while the strand of beads connected the pins. A third brooch would keep a cloak closed was the de rigeur attire for elite Viking women. Archaeologists now believe that the recently-emerged set is the jewelry buried with the Frafjord woman, lost before the ship burial was excavated.

“The Frafjord woman belonged to the upper strata of society, because not everyone was fortunate enough to wear such jewellery. The jewellery showed not only what status she had in this life, but also what social position she should take in life after death, and were thus important social markers, not only on earth, but also in the hereafter”, Kristine Orestad Sørgaard explains.

The Frafjord woman’s equipment testifies to flourishing international contacts and trade. Oval brooches were mass-produced in towns such as Kaupang and Ribe, while several of the beads may have originated in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Several of the beads come from a great temporal distance as well. Three blue glass beads date to the Early Iron Age, so they were hundreds of years old when the Frafjord woman was buried.

“It is regrettable that we have lost this knowledge and that professionals did not have the opportunity to investigate the site when the discovery was made, since we have thus lost a lot of important information.  […]

“Either this is heirloom, or the find is mixed with another find from another, much older grave. We will never know”, says Kristine Orestad Sørgaard, who emphasizes that this is the reason why it is so important that private finds are reported as soon as possible.


Ancient colors revived at the Met

Saturday, July 9th, 2022

A new exhibition about the history of polychromy on Greek and Roman sculpture opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Tuesday. Chroma: Ancient Sculpture in Color looks at newly-discovered evidence of polychromy on artworks in the Met’s own collection and reconstructions of how the colorful original may have looked based on the new data. Reconstructions of major works from other collections — for example the Riace bronzes and the Boxer at Rest — are also displayed in the exhibition.

The exhibition features a series of reconstructions of ancient sculptures in color by Prof. Dr. V. Brinkmann, Head of the Department of Antiquity at the Liebieghaus Sculpture Collection, and Dr. U. Koch-Brinkmann, and introduces a new reconstruction of The Met’s Archaic-period Sphinx finial, created by The Liebieghaus team in collaboration with The Met. Presented alongside original Greek and Roman works representing similar subjects, the reconstructions are the result of a wide array of analytical investigations, including 3D imaging, and art historical research. Polychromy is a significant area of study for The Met, and the Museum has a long history of investigating, preserving, and presenting manifestations of original color on ancient statuary.  

Displayed throughout the Museum’s Greek and Roman galleries, the exhibition explores four main themes: the discovery and identification of color and other surface treatments on ancient works of art; the reconstruction and interpretation of polychromy on ancient Greek and Roman sculpture; the role of polychromy in conveying meaning within Greek and Roman contexts; and the reception of polychromy in later periods.

Chroma emphasizes the extensive presence and role of polychromy in ancient Mediterranean sculpture, both broadly and across media, geographies, and time periods, from Cycladic idols of the third millennium B.C. to Imperial Roman portraiture of the second century, as witnessed throughout the Museum’s collection and illustrated with 40 artworks in the permanent galleries on the first floor of the Museum. Fourteen reconstructions of Greek and Roman sculpture by Dr. Brinkmann and his team highlight advanced scientific techniques used to identify original surface treatments. These full-size physical reconstructions will be juxtaposed with comparable original works of art throughout The Met’s Greek and Roman Art Galleries, provoking visitors to rethink how the Greek and Roman sculptures originally looked in antiquity.

One of the focal artworks in the exhibition is a marble funerary stele from the Archaic period (ca. 530 B.C.) featuring the relief of a youth and topped by a finial in the form of a sphinx. The sphinx retains unusually abundant remnants of red, black and blue paint, and Brinkmann’s team studied it with multi-spectral imaging, photographic techniques and other scientific analyses to reconstruct the original color almost completely. An Augmented Reality app has been created for visitors with smartphones to recreate the sphinx finial in full color while they observe the sphinx as it is today.

The show also ties in artifacts that attest to the ancient love of bright color, like depictions on Greek terracotta vases of polychrome sculpture, a scene of an artist with a brush painting a sculpture carved into an intaglio gemstone, even the beautifully frescoed walls of a bedroom from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale near Pompeii that depict a vividly painted architectural landscape.

This video looks at how Brinkmann and Koch-Brinkmann studied the originals to create the color reconstructions. It’s also very cool to see how the traces of ancient paint appear on the sphinx finial under different lighting conditions.

This video is a digital reconstruction of polychromy built up on the sculpture of a head, likely of Athena. It gives an all-too-brief glimpse into how Egyptian blue pigment was used in the creation of realistic skin tones.





October 2022


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