Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 1611–1619 | Cite as

The ancient use of colouring on the marble statues of Hierapolis of Phrygia (Turkey): an integrated multi-analytical approach

  • Susanna Bracci
  • Silvia VettoriEmail author
  • Emma Cantisani
  • Ilaria Degano
  • Marco Galli
Brief Report


The interest about the extent of the polychromy of ancient artefacts has increased in the last 10 years, increasing our knowledge on classical art, still often perceived as perfectly white. As a consequence, the development of methodologies allowing the detection and interpretation of the traces of colour remaining on the surfaces of archaeological artefacts has gained momentum. This paper presents the results of a multi-disciplinary research carried out about the painting materials used in producing selected marble statues excavated from the archaeological site of Hierapolis of Phrygia (Turkey), integrating the art-historical approach and the archaeometric data. The artefacts discussed in this paper were excavated in the archaeological site of Hierapolis in the course of several years by the Italian archaeological mission (MAIER). The objects include the reliefs and decorative statuary of the Severan Theatre and the statues excavated from the North Agora of the archaeological site, which are currently preserved in the museum of Hierapolis-Pamukkale. The analytical protocol, based on non-invasive imaging techniques (ultraviolet fluorescence images—UVf and visible induced luminescence—VIL), was performed directly outdoor, in the archaeological site. Few microsamples were selected, collected and subjected to laboratory analyses (XRD, FT-IR, SEM-EDS and HPLC-DAD). The integrated protocol allowed for the identification of the colouring materials used in producing the polychromies under study.


Ancient colour Imaging techniques VIL Marble statue Egyptian blue Madder lake 



This research was cofounded by MIUR in the framework of the Italian FIRB 2012 Project “Marmora Phrygiae”. The authors would like to thank Dr. G. Scardozzi, Dr. T. Ismaelli (Institute for Archaeological and Monumental Heritage-IBAM-CNR) and Prof. F. D’Andria, director of the Italian Archaeological Mission in Hierapolis in 2013-2015 (MAIER,, last access-January 2019), for their support and suggestions.

Supplementary material

12520_2019_803_MOESM1_ESM.docx (5.5 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 5619 kb)


  1. Accorsi G, Verri G, Bolognesi M, Armaroli N, Clementi C, Miliani C, Romani A (2009) The exceptional near infrared luminescence properties of cuprorivaite (Egyptian blue). Chem Comm (23):3392–3394Google Scholar
  2. Andreotti A, Colombini MP, Ribechini E, D’Alessio A, Frezzato F (2017) The characterisation of red-violet organic colours in ancient samples. In: Kirby J (ed) The diversity of dyes in history and archaeology. Archetype Publications, London, pp 97–106Google Scholar
  3. Avlonitou L (2016) Pigments and colours: an inside look at the painted decoration of the Macedonian funerary monuments. J Archaeol Sci Rep 7:668–678Google Scholar
  4. Bartolucci U, Colombini MP, Degano I (2007) Materiali organici dalle pellicole pittoriche di terrecotte architettoniche provenienti da Cuma. In: Gasparri C, Greco G (eds) Cuma. Indagini archeologiche e nuove scoperte. Naus Editoria, Pozzuoli, pp 125–130Google Scholar
  5. Baumann H (1982) Die griechische Pflanzenwelt in Mythos. Kunst und Literatur, MünchenGoogle Scholar
  6. Bejor G (1991) Hierapolis. Scavi e Ricerche III. Le statue (Archaeologica 99), RomaGoogle Scholar
  7. Brecoulaki H (2014) “Precious Colours” in ancient Greek polychromy and painting: material aspects and symbolic values. Revue Archeol 57(1):3–35Google Scholar
  8. Brinkmann V, Koch-Brinkmann U (2010) On the reconstruction of antique polychromy techniques. In: Brinkmann V, Primavesi O, Hollein M (eds) Circumlitio. The polychromy of antique and mediaeval sculpture. Hirmer Publishers, Frankfurt, pp 115–135Google Scholar
  9. Brinkmann V, Kellner S, Koch-Brinkmann U, Østergaard JS (2004) La colorazione del ritratto di Caligola. In: Liverani P (ed) I colori del bianco. Policromia nella scultura antica. De Luca Editori d’Arte, Roma, pp 263–268Google Scholar
  10. Cardon D (2007) A world of reds: rubiaceae plants rich in red anthraquinone dyes. In: Cardon D (ed) Natural dyes, sources, tradition, technology and science. Archetype Publication Ltd., London, pp 104–166Google Scholar
  11. Colombini MP, Degano I, Ribechini E (2017) A multi analytical approach to determine madder lake in a funerary clay vessel found in a chamber tomb in Taranto. In: Kirby J (ed) The diversity of dyes in history and archaeology. Archetype Publication Ltd., London, pp 90–96Google Scholar
  12. D’Andria F, Ritti T (1985) Le sculture del Teatro. I rilievi con i cicli di Apollo e Artemide, Hierapolis. Scavi e ricerche II, Archeologica 54, RomaGoogle Scholar
  13. Degano I, Ribechini E, Modugno F, Colombini MP (2009) Analytical methods for the characterisation of organic dyes in artworks and in historical textiles. Appl Spectrosc Rev 44:363–410CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Delamare F, Monasse B (2008) Computation of a visible light absorption spectrum, a semi-empirical quantum mechanical approach: application to the color determination of alizarine complex in solution or chemisorbed onto cellulose. Dyes Hystory Archaeol 21:214–223Google Scholar
  15. Dyer J, Verri G, Cupitt J (2013) Multispectral Imaging in Reflectance and Photo-induced Luminescence modes: a user manual. Accessed Aug 2018
  16. Dyer J, Tamburini D, Sotiropoulou S (2018) The identification of lac as a pigment in ancient Greek polychromy–the case of a Hellenistic oinochoe from Canosa di Puglia. Dyes Pigments 149:122–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fostiridou A, Karapanagiotis I, Vivdenko S, Lampakis D, Mantzouris D, Achilara L, Manoudis P (2016) Identification of pigments in Hellenistic and Roman funeral figurines. Archaeometry 58(3):453–464CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Galli M (2016) Le statue di Demetra e Kore-Persephone nel Teatro di Hierapolis. Ist Mitt 66:161–224Google Scholar
  19. Gasanova S, Pagès-Camagna S, Andrioti S, Hermon S (2018) Non-destructive in situ analysis of polychromy on ancient Cypriot sculptures. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 10:83–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Giachi G, Pallecchi P, Colombini MP, Degano I, Bartolucci U, Modugno F (2009) I colori e la tecnica pittorica: risultati dell’indagine analitica. In: Bottini A, Setari E (eds) I marmi dipinti di Ascoli Satriano. Mondadori Electa, Milano, pp 74–77Google Scholar
  21. Hatton GD, Shortland AJ, Tite MS (2008) The production technology of Egyptian blue and green frits from second millennium BC Egypt and Mesopotamia. J Archaeol Sci 35:1591–1604CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Iannaccone R, Bracci S, Cantisani E, Mazzei B (2015) An integrated multi methodological approach for characterizing the materials and pigments on a sarcophagus in St. mark, Marcellian and Damasus catacombs. Appl Phys A Mater Sci Process 121:1235–1242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ismaelli T, Scardozzi G (2016) Ancient quarries and building sites in Asia Minor. Research on Hierapolis in Phrygia and other cities in south-western Anatolia: archaeology, archaeometry, conservation, Edipuglia, BariGoogle Scholar
  24. Kakoulli I (2001) Scientific investigations of three Graeco-Roman painted stone slabs. In: Nécropolis 1, Études Alexandrines 5, Institute Français D’Archéologie Orientale, Cairo, pp 215–224Google Scholar
  25. Kakoulli I, Radpour R, Lin Y, Svoboda M, Fischer C (2017) Application of forensic photography for the detection and mapping of Egyptian blue and madder lake in Hellenistic polychrome terracottas based on their photophysical properties. Dyes Pigments 136:104–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Karapanagiotis I, Chryssoulakis Y (2006) Investigation of red natural dyes used in historical objects by HPLC-DAD-MS. Ann Chim 96:75–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Levick B (2004) The Roman economy. Trade in Asia minor and the niche market. Greece Rome 51:180–198CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Liverani P, Bracci S, Iannaccone R, Lenzi S, Magrini D, Mazzei B (2018) Colours in the dark: new researches into catacombs. In: Bracci S, Giachi G, Liverani P, Pallecchi P, Paolucci F (eds) Polychromy in ancient sculpture and architecture. Sillabe SrL, Livorno, pp 111–121Google Scholar
  29. Liverani P, Santamaria U (2014) Diversamente bianco. La policromia della scultura romana. Edizioni Quasar, RomaGoogle Scholar
  30. Liverani P, Bracci S, Iannaccone R, Lenzi S (2013) Monochromes on marble from Herculaneum and Pompei: new researches. In: Østergaard JS (ed) Tracking colour. The polychromy of Greek and Roman Sculpture in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Preliminary Report 5 New Carlsberg Glyptoteck, pp 100–103Google Scholar
  31. Lluveras-Tenorio A, Parlanti F, Degano I, Lorenzetti G, Demosthenous D, Colombini MP, Rasmussen KL (2017) Spectroscopic and mass spectrometric approach to define the Cyprus orthodox icon tradition. The first known occurrence of Indian lac in Greece/Europe. Microchem J 131:112–119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. MAIER, Missione Archeologica Italiana a Hierapolis,, last Access Jan 2019
  33. Mantzouris D, Karapanagiotis I (2015) Armenian cochineal (Porphyrophora hamelii) and purpurin-rich madder in ancient polychromy. Colora Technol 131:370–373CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Nicola M, Aceto M, Gheroldi V, Gobetto R, Chiari G (2018) Egyptian blue in the Castelseprio mural painting cycle. Imaging and evidence of a non-traditional manufacture. J Archaeol Sci Rep 19:465–475Google Scholar
  35. Østergaard JS (2007) Caligula in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen. Reconstructing the polychromy of a Roman portrait. In: Brinkmann V, Wünsche R (eds) Gods in color. Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity, München, pp 178–183Google Scholar
  36. Pellino G (2011) Una statua di provincia orientale dall’agora di Hierapolis di Phrygia. In: D’Andria F, Romeo I (eds) Roman sculpture in Asia Minor: proceedings of the international conference to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Italian excavations at Hierapolis in Phrygia. J. Roman Archaeol. 80: 251–268Google Scholar
  37. Ritti T (1995) Associazione di mestiere a Hierapolis di Frigia. In: Giannattasio B (ed) Viaggi e commerci nell’antichità. Atti VII Giornata archeologica, Genova, pp 65–84Google Scholar
  38. Ritti T (2017) Hierapolis di Frigia IX. Storia e istituzioni di Hierapolis. Ege Yayınları, IstanbulGoogle Scholar
  39. Sabatini F, Lluveras-Tenorio A, Degano I, Kuckova S, Krizova I, Colombini MP (2016) A matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry method for the identification of anthraquinones: the case of historical lakes. J Am Soc Mass Spectrom 27:1824–1834CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Salvant J, Williams J, Ganio M, Casadio F, Daher C, Sutherland K, Monico L, Vanmeert V, De Meyer S, Janssens K, Cartwright C, Walton M (2018) A roman egyptian painting workshop: technical investigation of the portraits from Tebtunis, Egypt. Archaeometry 60(4):815–833Google Scholar
  41. Santamaria U, Morresi F (2004) Le indagini scientifiche per lo studio della cromia dell’Augusto di Prima Porta. In: Liverani P (ed) I colori del bianco. Policromia nella scultura antica, collana di studi e documentazione. Musei Vaticani De Luca Editori d’Arte, Roma, pp 243–248Google Scholar
  42. Sargent ML, Therkildsen RH (2010) The technical investigation of sculptural polychromy at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek 2009–2010—An Outline. In: Østergaard JS (ed.) Tracking colour. The polychromy of Greek and Roman sculpture in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Preliminary report 2, Copenhagen, Accessed Aug 2018
  43. Sotiropoulou S, Sciutto G, Lluveras Tenorio A, Mazurek J, Bonaduce I, Prati S, Mazzeo R, Schilling M, Colombini MP (2018) Advanced analytical investigation on degradation markers in wall paintings. Microchem J 139:278–294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Verri G (2009) The spatially resolved characterization of Egyptian blue, Han blue and Han purple by photo-induced luminescence digital imaging. Anal Bioanal Chem 394:1011–1021CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Verri G, Clementi C, Comelli D, Cather S, Pique F (2008) Post-capture data analyses as an aid to the interpretation of ultraviolet-induced fluorescence images. In: Stork DG, Coddington J (eds) Proceeding SPIE 6810, Computer Image Analyses In The Study Of Art, Bellingham, pp 2–12Google Scholar
  46. Warda J, Frey F, Heller D, Kusheld D, Vitale T, Weaver G (2012) Ultraviolet photography. In: Warda J (ed) AIC guide to digital photography and conservation documentation, 2nd edn. American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, Washington DCGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ICVBC-CNR Institute for Conservation and Valorization of Cultural HeritageNational Research CouncilFlorenceItaly
  2. 2.ICVBC-CNR Institute for Conservation and Valorization of Cultural HeritageNational Research CouncilMilanItaly
  3. 3.Department of Chemistry and Industrial ChemistryUniversity of PisaPisaItaly
  4. 4.Department of ClassicsSapienza University of RomeRomeItaly

Personalised recommendations