Recent research on the coloration of Greek and Roman art and architecture has significantly increased our understanding of classical art, still popularly perceived as perfectly white. This research combines art history, archaeology and science to examine ancient artworks with new methods of digital imaging, microscopy and non-destructive materials analysis in order to identify and characterize the vestiges of ancient color that survive, often at the brink of invisibility, on their surfaces. The results reveal the often vivid colors of Greek and Roman art and raise important new questions about Western visual aesthetics and the role of color in ancient culture.
While research in this rapidly-emerging field is largely based and focused on collections of Greek and Roman art in a handful of leading European museums, the vast majority of artworks preserving ancient coloration are dispersed in international and US museums and in archaeological excavations across the Mediterranean region. In these settings, there is an acute need for museum-grade on-site examination of ancient polychromy paired with rigorous scientific characterization.
The Ancient Polychromy Network (APN) at the University of Georgia works with museums and archaeological excavations on ancient polychromy at the national and international level. The Network serves as a important point of international contact for the coordination of research and multidisciplinary study. The Network also incorporates the educational mission of its home institution, the University of Georgia, in seeking to educate the general public about the true polychrome appearance of Greek and Roman art. The study of color has been a multidisciplinary subject since antiquity; today research on this important and once-defining aspect of Greek and Roman art requires a multidisciplinary infrastructure.