Back to overview

Antefix with female head

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek


This beautiful antefix has well-preserved traces of original polychromy. The palmette leaves are painted alternately black and red with white outlines while the background around them is painted bluish black. The skin colour is pale pink, the hair is yellow and black, iris and pupil are painted black and tear ducts and lips are red. The range of the colour palette is relatively restricted. Only a few different pigments have been identified – yellow and red ochre, Egyptian blue and black manganese. Despite the limited use of colours the chromatic scheme is much more nuanced. Visual inspection of cross-section shows that all pigments have been applied in a very thin layer on top of a whitish ground. EMPA measurements of the white ground clearly reveal the presence of common clay minerals. The white silica-based ground layer is used as a base for the polychromy but the same white material is also observed in samples of different colours mixed to obtain different coloured tones. The VIL-imaging revealed a strong luminescence of Egyptian blue on the background around the palmettes and on the surface of the face and hair where it appears as scattered particles as part of a mixture of different colours used to obtain the right shade

Description of object

The antefix represents a female head surrounded by a floral shell frame. The shell consists of five palmettes of seven leaves each, alternating with smaller lotus flowers. On top of the head is a diadem decorated with discs alternating with ovals in relief. Around the neck is a necklace in the form of a thick, twisted band. The antefix has been mould-made of reddish yellow clay with many inclusions. The head has been assembled from several, large pieces. Chips are missing from the edge of the shell frame, along the bottom left side and from the bottom border. The surface is covered with biological growth. Other examples from the same mould sequence have been associated with the Belvedere Temple at Orvieto.

Choice of methods

Visual examination

  • Macroscopic
  • Microscopic in situ

Technical imaging

  • UV
  • VIL


  • Cross section
  • Microscopy
  • EMP
  • XRF

Visual examination

The palmette leaves are painted alternately black and red with white outlines. White is also used on the volutes, roll and concave band. The background around the palmettes is painted bluish black. The outer edge of the shell and the background below each palmette are painted red, as is the upper band. The boxes of the meander on the bottom border are painted red while the lower band and lower boxes of the meander are black. The skin colour has been painted using different tones of pink. The painterly accentuation is found particularly on the cheeks and the chin where a darker pink is observed compared to the rest of the face where a light pink is used. The lips are painted using two different shades of red; dark red on the lips and a brighter red between the lips. The eyes, upper and lower rim and eyebrows are painted black. The hair is painted mostly black but some areas of yellow are observable on top of the black. The diadem on top of the head is painted black with red edges.

Technical imaging

UV-FL: The UV-FL photograph distinguishes the difference between the original surface and areas covered with biological growth. The skin colour appears pinkish violet in different shades. A strong orange fluorescence is observable next to a repair on the right side of the head. Dark red appears on the lips and the upper eyelid

VIL: The VIL-imaging reveals the extensive use of Egyptian blue on the background around the palmettes and the outer leaves of the lotus flower which means that black is mixed with Egyptian blue to obtain a bluish-black effect. In the face an even distribution of the relatively uniform grains is observed as bright white particles, but in some areas more concentrated, such as on the upper lid, the chin, wing(?) of the nose and over the lips. The particles distributed in the hair appear more fine-grained than on the face.

Other types of investigation

Sampling A sampling strategy has been developed on the basis of the preliminary investigation. Six samples were taken with a surface area of circa 0.25-1 mm2.

Sample 1 pink from the neck Sample 2 pink from right cheek Sample 3 pink from the neck Sample 4 black from the top palmette Sample 5 pink from the right cheek Sample 6 from the left side of the hair

Microscopy: Visual inspection using an optical microscope shows that the pigments in the cross-section of all samples have been applied in a very thin layer on top of a whitish ground.

XRF in situ:01: Black in the eye: Mn could be black manganese. Other components detected: Fe, Co, Cu, Zn. 02: Black on background surrounding the palmettes: Mn and Cu probably black manganese mixed with Egyptian blue. Other components detected: Fe, Zn 03: Red under palmette. Fe could be iron oxide. Other components detected: Mn, Cu, Zn. 04: The terracotta from the back. Mn Fe, Co, Ni, Zn, 05: Skin colour left cheek: Fe and Cu probably red ochre or hematite mixed with Egyptian blue. Other components detected: Mn, Co, Zn 06: White on the volute: Mn, Fe, Cu probably a clay-based pigment 07: Yellow and black on hair. Mn and Fe could be black manganese and yellow ochre. Other components detected: Cu, Zn 08: Red on lips: Fe probably red ochre or hematite. Other components detected: Mn and Cu

Micro Probe analysis (EMPA): sample 4, 5 and 6 are carbon coated and prepared for EMPA. EMPA measurements performed on different points of the white ground layer of all samples clearly reveal the presence of common clay minerals. The white, silica-based ground layer is used as a base for the polychromy but the same white material is also observed in samples of different colours as in the case with the flesh colour where it is mixed with red ochre to obtain the right shade. Sample 4: The top layer is a very, fine, thin layer of black manganese (MnO2) and a few grains of copper (Cu) from the presence of Egyptian blue found in a matrix of silicate. On the backscatter image the Mn particles appear bright white. The second and the third layer contain almost the same complex mixture of many different clay minerals which include quartz grains, silicate, feldspar, iron, aluminium, magnesium and calcium. The difference between the second layer and the third layer lies in the preparation. While the second layer seems more fine-grained and compact, the third layer is more uneven and porous. Sample 5: The pinkish top layer contains small, fine grains of iron (Fe) suggesting the use of hematite mixed together with a silicate-based clay having a high content of calcite and a few grains of a black pigment. A visual inspection shows that the pink colour is produced from finely milled grains and some few larger red grains. Underneath the pink layer, a white, silicate-based ground layer is visible consisting of a mass of small white grains in which a few larger red grains are embedded. No evidence of the use of kaolin is found in the white ground. Sample 6: A yellow/orange layer consisting of large grains of iron (Fe) due to goethite is visible on top of a thin layer of black manganese (MnO2) with grains of dolomite. Large grains of feldspar, iron and magnesium are present in the sediment in the ground layer. As seen in sample 4 the maxtrix in the second layer seems more fine-grained and compact than in the third layer.


J. Christiansen & N.A Winter (2010), Etruria I. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, 104, cat. No. 47.

M.S. Sargent (2012), Investigation into the polychromy of some 5th century BCE Etruscan architectural terracottas In: J.S. Østergaard (ed.), Tracking Colour. The polychromy of Greek and Roman sculpture in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Preliminary report 4. Copenhagen, p. 26-44.

C. Brøns (1), S. B. Hedegaard & K. L. Rasmussen (2018), The real thing? Studies of polychromy and Authenticity of Etruscan Pinakes at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Studi Etruschi LXXIX – MMXIV, 195-223.

S.B. Hedegaard (2018), Reconstructing Etruscan Architectural Polychromy: Antefixes from the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, in S. Bracci, G. Giachi, P. Liverani, P. Pallecchi & F. Paolucci (eds.) Polychromy in Ancient Sculpture and Architecture. Proceedings of the 7th Round Table, Florence, 4-7 November 2015, Sillabe, Florence, 36-42.

  • HIN 453
  • Antefix
  • c. 400 B.C.E.
  • Classical
  • Terracotta
  • Acquired in 1924 in Orvieto.
  • H. 36 cm.; W 40.5 cm.

Selected photos

  • Hin453_t_0
  • Hin453_d_skin
  • Hin453_d_lips
  • Hin453_d_chin
  • Hin453_d_right_eye
  • Hin453_d_hair
  • Hin453_mi_5a_x10
  • Hin453_mi_emp_5a
  • Hin453_mi_4_x10
  • Hin453_mi_emp_4
  • Hin453_uv_d_face
  • Hin453_vil_t_0
  • Hin453_vil_d_face