Polychromy - Color for the past - Part 2

© NÖ Landessammlungen

Sarcophagus of Herennia Rufina © Collections of Lower Austria, Carnuntum Archaeological Park

By Marion Großmann - Editors: Daniel Kunc, Thomas Mauerhofer

Current research

The methods already mentioned have already yielded some great findings: The sarcophagus of Herennia Rufina showed only very difficult to recognise traces of colour when it was found. The sarcophagus, lavishly decorated with reliefs, was erected by the officer Caecilius Saturninus for his wife Herennia Rufina, who died at the age of 20. The sarcophagus is currently in the polychromy room of the Museum Carnuntinum. 

An analysis revealed yellow, red and dark ochre, green earth and Egyptian blue. In the course of the analyses, retouching carried out during the restoration of the sarcophagus was observed in places. The colour residues are now - after restoration - visible to the naked eye.

The dedicatory monument to Minerva and the Genius Immunium was found in 1903 within the remains of the legionary camp at Carnuntum. The group of statues ended up in the Ludwigstorff Collection and was installed in the Carnuntinum Museum after its restoration in 1904.

© NÖ Landessammlungen

Statuettes of Minerva and the Genius Immunium with dedicatory inscription © Landessammlungen NÖ, Archäologischer Park Carnuntum (Photo: N.Gail)

In the course of the current analysis, Egyptian blue, the oldest artificially produced pigment, was found on the helmet and individual parts of the clothing. This blue colour was also used to tint red ochre in order to create a purple-like hue. This can be seen on the waistbands of both figures and on the hem of the genius's cloak. In some cases, several layers of colour were applied on top of each other, such as in the area of the Medusa's head on the Aegis of Minerva with three layers of paint. An antique repair or touch-up could also be recognised.

Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry revealed egg as the organic binder. 
The polychromy of the Mithras cult monuments is another focus of the project. The tauroctony relief from the area of the Auxiliary Fort, for example, shows the use of Egyptian blue on the bull and the Phrygian cap of the god, as well as in the folded valleys of the fluttering cloak, in addition to its excellently preserved colour residues, which are visible to the naked eye and can only be captured using multispectral imaging. In some cases, blue was applied together with red ochre to create a purple colour.


The range of results hoped for from the project, some of which have already been achieved, is already clear from the examples given. Some of the methods used are breaking new ground, which is why the research is proving to be all the more important. The aim is to gain an initial coherent picture of the polychrome stone monuments in Carnuntum and the Roman Danube provinces.

The project will run until 2025 and the organisations involved include the Federal Monuments Office, the Lower Austrian State Collections (Office of the Lower Austrian State Government), the Museum of Art History, the University of Vienna and the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW).

Recommended reading

© NÖ Landessammlungen

Tauroktonie relief © Landessammlungen NÖ, Archäologischer Park Carnuntum (Photo: N.Gail)

  • Da JavaScript dekativiert ist, werden einige Inhalte nicht geladen.
  • Da dein Browser nicht supportet wird, werden einige Inhalte nicht geladen.
  • Auf Grund von zu geringer Bandbreite werden einige Inhalte nicht geladen.
  • Auf Grund von zu schwacher Hardware werden einige Inhalte nicht geladen.