Friday, August 19, 2011

Real Rome: The Ara Pacis in Technocolor

When you think of ancient Roman architecture and sculpture, when you imagine yourself traveling back to the time of the Caesars (please don’t tell me I’m the only one who fantasizes about time travel) what do you see? Immaculate white marble statues and gleaming, bright white temples and palaces?
Well, think again.

Ancient Rome was very colorful. Statues would have been painted with flesh tones, as well as bright colors for the garments, and would have sported uncannily realistic glass eyes. Temples would have radiated in red, blue, green, purple and gold. This is no recent discovery, but something that has been common knowledge among archaeologists and art historians since the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum were first uncovered in the mid-1700s. Nevertheless, the Renaissance misconception of an all-white Rome has persisted even into our times, and most people have a hard time visualizing garish multi-colored temples and palaces that seem vulgar in comparison with the pure and monochromatic ones of our imagination. This is in part due to the wealth of neoclassical architecture that swept Europe in the mid-18th century (and slightly later the United States, particularly in Washington, D.C.) ironically the same time those very discoveries were being made to prove this vision erroneous.

So it seems this is the dirty little secret of archaeology. We all know these sculptures and temples were tarted up in every color in the rainbow, but nobody wants to admit it. Some truths are better left unseen.

At least that is what you might think until you’ve seen the Ara Pacis on a Saturday night in summer. This stunning 1st century BC monument, which deserves a post of its own at a later date, is viewable on Saturday nights until the end of summer (only 3 left!) as it once may have looked. With the use of lasers, art historians collaborating with graphic artists and technicians, have made it possible to see the Ara Pacis in its full, brazen glory, like it or not. I, for one, like it. The bas-reliefs speak to you and the floral patterns burst to life. I find that all-white look rather boring, actually. My number one question: did they use fuchsia?

Head to the Ara Pacis on August 20th or 27th or September 3rd, from 9pm to midnight to see for yourself!

Photo sources: 1, 2, 3
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  1. i'm so going tomorrow night to get photos!:-)

  2. There are excellent photos at


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