Ancient Color

Ancient Color

Creating Using Investigating


Wall painting from the Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii
This is a watercolor reproduction of just one section of wall painting from a room in the Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii. Watercolor on paper. Artist: Maria Barosso, 1924–1925. KM 2000.2.7a,b

When you read the word “Roman,” what colors come to mind? The grays and whites of marble sculpture? The weathered hues of a wall painting?

What about vibrant red?

Sumptuous purple?

Brilliant blue?

The Roman world was much more colorful than its faded remains suggest. Merchants traded far and wide for the raw materials to produce a variety of pigments and dyes, and the many ways they were put to use reflects the significance of color in Roman culture. Artifacts of every variety can retain evidence of color, from the still-vibrant red and green threads woven into a cloth bag to the invisible traces of blue pigment on a marble head.

In this exhibition, on view at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology from February 8 to May 26, 2019, we invite you to explore the colors of the Roman world — its sources, its uses, its meanings — and to discover how modern science is revealing more about ancient color than ever before.