WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 19, 2017)—Using technology, an international team of scholars has digitally restored a panel from the Arch of Titus to its original color—offering us a glimpse of what ancient Rome looked like. Steven Fine of Yeshiva University, Peter J. Schertz of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and Donald H. Sanders of the Institute for the Visualization of History detail their restoration efforts in the article “True Colors: Digital Reconstruction Restores Original Brilliance to the Arch of Titus” published in the May/June 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
Usually when we envision ancient Rome, we imagine a world of gleaming white marble edifices and statues. This, however, is not an accurate picture. Although many Roman—and Greek—statues and monuments now appear white (or grey), they were originally brightly colored. The whiteness we see today is the result of years of weathering.
One of the most famous monuments in ancient Rome is the Arch of Titus. Constructed by the Roman Senate and the people of Rome in 81 C.E., the arch celebrates the Roman emperor Titus’s military victories during the First Jewish-Roman War (66–74 C.E.)—when the Romans infamously burned the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. One of the arch’s panels depicts Roman soldiers carrying captured treasures from Jerusalem’s Temple, including a large menorah, through the streets of Rome. The team focused on restoring this panel to its original brilliance.
After creating a 3D scan of the menorah panel, they could see the scene in more detail than ever before, which enabled them to digitally restore portions of it. Next the team scanned the panel for signs of color. Traces of yellow pigment were discovered on the menorah, which confirmed that the Arch of Titus’s menorah had originally been painted yellow. These results aligned with the Jewish historian Josephus’s account of the Roman victory parade, wherein he describes the menorah as being gold.
The team then added color to the rest of the panel—bringing the ancient scene to life. They colored the background sky blue, the tunics off-white, the overgarments reddish-purple, the wreaths green, the laurel berries purple, the sacred vessels gold, the trumpets silver, and the leather and wood brown. They colored the arch (in the far right of the panel) white, black and gold. Further, they added labels to the three signs held by the Roman victors; these labels were based loosely on Josephus’s text.
To confirm that their reconstructions are correct, the team hopes to return to the Arch of Titus soon to scan the rest of the menorah panel for color.