Roman statue unhearted with original colours
March 27th, 2006
||Italian and British archaeologists have recovered a painted Roman statue with its original
colours preserved. The head of a female warrior was retrieved this week from
the debris of a collapsed escarpment at Herculaneum. This small city was the
seaside resort for the rich and powerful romans and it was destroyed by the
eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79 together with the city of Pompeii.
Domenico Camardo, the archaeologist who extracted the head from
the volcanic rock, said that when a workman first alerted him to the
discovery, he “hardly dared hope” that the bust would be intact.
“Only the back of the head was visible, and I was afraid the face would have
crumbled,” he said.
The nose and mouth were missing, but the hair,
pupils and eyelashes were “as pristine as they were when Herculaneum was
overwhelmed by the eruption”, Monica Martelli Castaldi, the restorer of the
To find this much pigment is very, very rare. Although it had
been known that Roman statues were painted, only faint traces of pigment had
been found before now. It had also been assumed that classical statues were
painted brightly. In fact, the colouring on the head is a delicate shade
of orange-red, which, although faded, indicates that classical colouring
was subtle and sophisticated, Jane Thompson, the project manager,
Since then restorers have patched up flaking frescoes, brought in
falcons to chase away pigeons, whose droppings corrode the ruins, and
tackled humidity caused by rain and rising damp.
Areas closed to
visitors for years are gradually being reopened to the public, and lost
treasures are being found.
The collapsed escarpment where the Amazon head
was found was close to the great Basilica, which has been partially
excavated. The Basilica — the law courts — was linked to the cult of
Hercules, who, as part of his labours, had to fight Hippolyte, the Amazon
The female head
The beautiful painted eye
Photo by Riccardo Giordano
Other related news:
The ancients: now available in
colours (Nov 19th, 2004)