Sculptural Polychromy in Roman Italy

The discovery in 2006 of the painted head of an Amazon statue in the area of the Basilica Noniana at Herculaneum provided a vivid reminder that colour formed an important and complex part of Roman statuary.

The project is a collaboration between the Archaeological Computing Research Group at the University of Southampton and the Herculaneum Conservation Project led by the British School at Rome. The project is supervised by Dr Graeme Earl and Prof. Andrew Wallace-Hadrill. It aims to use technology to develop understandings of the range of materials, pigments and techniques that were routinely employed in the colouration and adornment of statuary.

Physically accurate 3D computer graphics are used as a means of visually engaging with polychrome statuary. Examples of statues and architectural contexts have been carefully documented and represented using processes which emulate the physical processes of light and reflection.

The representations allow the polychrome statuary to be visualised and hypothetically reconstructed in context. Within this virtual space variables can be easily altered and visualised providing a valuable resource with which to engage with data and build hypotheses.

The project draws upon a range of technologies including Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), laser scanning and physically accurate rendering (using path tracing and ray tracing).


  • Gareth Beale
  • Graeme Earl
  • Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, University of Cambridge