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!
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • 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.