October 19, 2017

The Polychromy of Mesopotamian Stone Statues

Astrid Nunn
Adjunct Professor for Near Eastern Archaeology, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

Barbara Jändl
Archaeological Restorer, Archaeological State Collection, Munich

Wednesday, November 1, 2017
7:00-9:00 pm
Breasted Hall of the Oriental Institute

Oriental Institute Collections Research Grant Recipients

Since 2011, Astrid Nunn (archaeologist), and Heinrich Piening, and Barbara Jändl (restorers) have worked as a team to investigate the polychromy of Mesopotamian stone statues from the 4th to the 1st millennium BCE. Although Near Eastern archaeologists have conducted scientific analyses of Mesopotamian painted murals, glazed material, and Neo-Assyrian and Achaemenid reliefs, the polychromy of Mesopotamian stone statues has not previously been the subject of further study. The two main reasons are the almost complete destruction of the colors themselves, and the ensuing difficulty of adapting the technical equipment to the spectroscopy process. After the collection of Berlin (Vorderasiatisches Museum), London (British Museum) and Brussels (Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire), the Oriental Institute Museum of the Chicago University is now the fourth collection that the team will investigate.
This talk will first address the techniques, from the examination with a microscope, the selection and chart of the “good” colors to the UV-Vis spectroscopy, to the final interpretation of the diagrams as to color and material. Second, Astrid Nunn will discuss the color categories and painting techniques. While the pigments can be identified, many questions about the ground coat, binders, solvents, paint application, and color mixing remain unanswered. Third will be a consideration of the color distribution on hair, skin, and garments. The first perspective adopts a descriptive and historical chronological development of the use of color. Questions about the possible different coloring of gods and normal humans or the color choice for garment and skin fall within the field of societal aspects. A. Nunn will conclude with an examination of the motives that determined color choice and a consideration of whether it is possible to narrow down the theoretical bandwidth separating realism from symbolism and the religious and political attitudes of commissioners and recipients; for example, red hues were predominant—as the embodiment of the donor, divine and human figures were a true likeness only in color, with "real" hair, eyes, skin and clothes.

Reception to follow in the Mesopotamian Gallery
Cost: Free
Oriental Institute

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Photo: © The Trustees of the British Museum