The Arty Semite

See the Arch of Titus, Now in Color

By Blair Thornburgh

  • Print
  • Share Share

We can never know for certain what ancient Jews and Romans saw when they passed under the Arch of Titus, but thanks to technology and a team of scholars, we now have an inkling.

Wikimedia Commons

The arch, dedicated in 81 C.E., celebrates the destruction of Jerusalem by the Emperor Titus and features an iconic bas-relief carving of a menorah on one side. Using a high-resolution digital scans and a process called ultraviolet-visual spectrometry, researchers sponsored by the Yeshiva University Center of Israel Studies and the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma discovered earlier this month that the stone surface of the menorah was once painted a yellow-ochre color, the New York Times reports.

It’s an exciting discovery, and one that’s potentially surprising. That’s because looking at ancient works of art isn’t straightforward. Even when spared man-made damage and cared for by preservationists, objects inevitably decay: stone chips, textiles unravel, paint fades. Compared with their brightly decorated and cloth-draped original splendor, the colorless surfaces of Roman sculpture we see today literally pale in comparison.

Scientific revelations about the ancient pigmentation of the Arch of Titus allow modern viewers a previously-impossible glimpse into the artist’s intent, as well as a confirmation of the powerful symbolism of this particular menorah. Its presence on the Arch of Titus has meant many things to the Jews of Rome throughout their history, which is the longest of any European Jewish community.

Through the years, the menorah has gone from a reminder of exile to a symbol of pride, perhaps even providing the inspiration for the emblem of the State of Israel. But though biblical, early Christian, and Talmudic sources all describe the menorah as golden in color, it has been impossible until now to verify its true hue.

With the success of this pilot project, the research team plans to expand the search for paint and scan the rest of the arch in 3D. The collected data will help build Rome Reborn, a digital model that will reconstruct the city circa 320 C.E. The Arch of Titus will be the first building of many to receive coloring, allowing its beauty to be, once again, in the eyes of its beholders.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Visual Art, Restoration, Monuments, Arch of Titus, Blair Thornburgh

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.