Bible and Archaeology News
**February 2013 update: Read the article “Jewish Captives in the Imperial City” on the Arch of Titus and Colosseum’s depictions of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple online for free in Bible History Daily as it appears in the January/Feburary 2013 issue of BAR**
The Arch of Titus Digital Restoration Project, conducted by the Yeshiva University Center for Israel Studies, recently scanned the iconic arch for traces of color on the first century C.E. bas-reliefs. The Roman arch commemorates Titus’s various military achievements, including the conquest of Jerusalem, and has served as a model for many triumphal arches, including Paris’s Arc de Triomphe. The historian Josephus describes the Roman triumph in which Jerusalem’s sacred artifacts were carried to the city, and the arch’s menorah relief has stood as an international symbol of the Jewish diaspora for millennia since. Yeshiva University’s study of polychromy and the cultural significance of color in ancient Jewish art has the exciting potential to reveal this often studied monument into new light. The project’s website strikes an optimistic tone. “There is much reason to be hopeful for success in determining the program of the Arch of Titus’ polychromy. The overall state of preservation of the Arch is excellent. The areas of greatest interest are underneath the intrados of the Arch and hence were protected against the elements. The thick patina on the interior marble surfaces give us reason for hope that some ancient pigmentation has been protected, ironically, by the centuries-long accumulation of soot and other pollutants.”
“High resolution three-dimensional scans of the Menorah and the deification reliefs were made, and part of the Menorah relief was examined to determine whether any traces of paint decoration were preserved. A Breuckmann GmbH 3D scanner was used for the data capture. UV-VIS spectrometry was employed to detect color on the marble reliefs.
The pilot project was a complete success. The scan data were processed to create a 3D representation of the form of the reliefs with sub-millimeter accuracy. Traces of yellow ochre were found on the arms and base of the Menorah. This discovery is consistent with biblical, early Christian, and Talmudic writings and particularly eye-witness descriptions of the golden menorah by the first century historian Josephus.
In the next phase, the team plans to expand the search for ancient paint over the entire surface of the arch, which will also be scanned in 3D. The data collected will enable the Yeshiva University team to create a three-dimensional digital model of how the arch originally appeared, including the colors decorating its surface. The model will be added to Rome Reborn, a 3D digital model of the entire city of Rome at the peak of its development.
Team members present in Rome included: Prof. Steven Fine, Director, Yeshiva University Center for Israel Studies, Project Director; Prof. Bernard Frischer, Co-Director, Senior Scientist of PublicVR and Director of the Rome Reborn project at the University of Virginia; Dr. Cinzia Conti, Archaeologist, Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma; Prof. Paolo Liverani, Professor of Archaeology, University of Florence; Dr. Heinrich Piening, Senior Conservator, State of Bavaria Department for the Conservation of Castles, Gardens, and Lakes. The firm of Unocad was represented by engineers Giovanni Nardotto and Ivano Ambrosini.
Dr. Piening was responsible for detecting the traces of yellow ochre on the Menorah relief. His discovery was all the more remarkable in that he uses a non-invasive technique called UV-VIS spectrometry, which means that the arch can be studied with no risk of damage.
The report of this pilot project will appear in the fall, 2012 issue of Images: A Journal of Jewish Art and Visual Culture.
Bernard Frischer said that “the success of the pilot project bodes well for achieving our overall goal of digitally restoring the arch to its original glory. It is exciting to imagine the menorah that Jesus saw in the Jerusalem Temple. I’m sure that amazing things are in store when we see how the rest of the reliefs were painted”
Heinrich Piening said “examining an artwork of such historical importance in an international and interreligious group of experts is a highly rewarding experience.”
Cinzia Conti said: “The Archaeological Superintendency supported this project because studying a monument like the Arch of Titus makes it possible to appreciate how it was made and offers a better basis for protecting and conserving it. The study of the way the reliefs were painted promises to bring the Arch back to life by showing us how it looked when it was first erected.
For these reasons, we considered the pilot project highly worthwhile, and now that the results are in, a complete success. We must proceed as soon as possible to the full study, which will give us the colors used to paint the entire Arch, and place the digitally restored Arch of Titus back into its context in the ancient city.
Steven Fine said: “The menorah on the Arch of Titus has been a symbol of Jewish resolve for 2000 years, and is now the symbol of modern Israel. To see its original golden color again is thrilling. I can’t wait to see what we find next.””
Quoted from the Yeshiva University’s Center of Israel Studies Arch of Titus website.
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