Artefact: Plaster cast of Statue of Augustus
Museum: Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Date of Original: between 20-15 BCE
Location of Original: Villa of Livia at Prima Porta, near Rome
Expert: Jo Rice
The original statue of Augustus is displayed in the Vatican Museums in Rome.
This brightly painted version of the statue reflects what scholars think it would have looked like originally. The young, muscular man represents Augustus as a victor. There are imperial reds and blues on his breastplate which again reinforce his role as leader of his people. The small child at his feet is Cupid. He was Aeneas’ half-brother and was a reminder that Augustus claimed to be a descendent of the founder of Rome.
A decision was made to make his breastplate red and blue, and colour the hair, eyes and lips, but leave the rest white. This is because some academics feel that the marble would have been left untouched, although others disagree and so some replicas have a flesh tone.
So how do the academics know the statue was painted? Small fragments of paint were found left on statues that have been excavated. From these scientists can tell what pigments would have originally coloured the statue. They would have been natural, mineral pigments that were bound with oils. These were lost over time due to weathering, giving the impression that the statues had always been white. In fact, there would have been much colour in Rome, particularly reds and blues, but also gold leaf in the sanctuaries and silver and jewelled eyes. The statues were meant to look magnificent and portray the might and wealth of Rome.
The conclusion that the statues were painted is not only based on science, but also on accounts of the statues written at the time. Repaint your view of the past!