The technical examination of IN 821 provides new insight into the original polychromy of polished marble portraits and the results suggest the portrait was fully painted.
The eyes were thickly painted using white, red ochre, carbon black and Egyptian blue. The rim and inner corners of the eyes were realistically accentuated with an organic lake. Scattered particles of red ochre, carbon black and Egyptian blue were used for the carnation colour. Traces of original paint in the hair exemplify the refined painting techniques.Yellow and red ochre, carbon black and Egyptian blue formed the basis of the colour palette. However, traces of gilding on top of an orange layer suggest gold was used for highlights in the hair.
Description of object
The portrait is that of a young man. The hair is short and the individual strands of hair are represented with a point chisel, creating a hatched , punctuated surface texture. The chisel is also used to accentuate the delicate eyebrows, while the pupils have been drilled twice. The skin surface is polished to a high gloss resembling porcelain, which is in sharp textural contrast to the chiselled hair.
The portrait is broken off at the neck and the nose and parts of the ears are missing. Remnants of biological growth and incrustation are observed in several places but the main part is concentrated on the left part of the hair and the neck.
Choice of methods
- Microscopic in situ
- Raking light
- Cross section
- Petrographic analysis
Marble identification method
- EPR and isotopic analysis
Traces of original paint are found all over the portrait. Scattered particles are most common and cohesive paint layers rarely occur. The largest concentration of paint is found on the neck and on the hair where secondary incrustation remains intact.
On the hair, red is combined with a few black and blue grains and often integrated in the crust. The fringe reveals a distinct orange layer and in the hair above the left ear has the same orange layer occur. On top of the orange layer fragments of original gilding are found.
The eyes of the portrait show scattered particles of red and and black. However, traces of black on the eyelids are preserved and a white layer is found in the inner corner of the left eye. The rims of the eyes as well as the lips exhibit faint traces of a pink layer.
In comparison the polished skin parts have fewest traces of original colour and they are usually preserved beneath crusting under the chin and on the neck. Red for carnation colour is found only as scattered particles. Cohesive layers are not observed.
VIL: On the hair, a few particles shining bright white are observed. The small particles also occur on the the skin and in the eyes. The characteristic glow of the particles confirms the use of Egyptian blue on the portrait.
Other types of investigation
The orange layer in the hair consists of ochre (Fe, 1230 ppm) and lead (Pb, 104 ppm).
The white layer in the left eye is based on lead (Pb, 258 ppm). And lead is also used between the lips (Pb, 258) together with the lake.
Analysis of the red colour on skin parts shows ochre (Fe, 675 ppm) and small amounts of copper (Cu, 24 ppm) and lead (Pb, 31 ppm).
A. Skovmøller & R. Therkildsen (2011), On the High Gloss Polish of Roman Sculpture. In: J.S.Østergaard (ed.). __Tracking __Colour, Preliminary Report 3, 2011. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek: 35-46.
F. Johansen (1995), Roman Portraits III. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, 50-51, cat.no. 16.
- IN 821
- 3rd century CE
- Roman Imperial
- White Göktepe marble
- Acquired in 1888 from Martinetti's art shop, through the agency of Helbig.
- H. 26 cm.