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Yeshiva University Team Discovers the Arch of Titus Menorah's Original Golden Color

New York, Friday, June 22, 2012.

From June 5 to 7, 2012 an international team of scholars led by the Yeshiva University Center for Israel Studies in partnership with the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma undertook a pilot study of the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum, the ancient civic center of Rome, Italy. The focus of attention was the Menorah panel and the relief showing the deification of Titus at the apex of the arch.

The arch was originally dedicated after the Emperor Titus' death in 81 CE and celebrates his victory in the Jewish War of 66-74 CE, which climaxed with the destruction of Jerusalem and her Temple in the summer of 70 CE.

The arch has three bas reliefs. One shows the deification of Titus.  Two other reliefs depict the triumphal procession held in Rome in 71 CE: in one we see Roman soldiers carrying the spoils of war through the city, including the famous Menorah (the seven-branched candelabrum) and other treasures of the destroyed Temple. These were put on display in Rome in the Temple of Peace not far from the arch. The second panel shows Titus riding in triumph through the city.

High resolution three-dimensional scans of the Menorah and the deification reliefs were made, and part of the Menorah relief was examined to determine whether any traces of paint decoration were preserved.  A Breuckmann GmbH 3D scanner was used for the data capture. UV-VIS spectrometry was employed to detect color on the marble reliefs.

The pilot project was a complete success. The scan data were processed to create a 3D representation of the form of the reliefs with sub-millimeter accuracy. Traces of yellow ochre were found on the arms and base of the Menorah.  This discovery is consistent with biblical, early Christian, and Talmudic writings and particularly eye-witness descriptions of the golden menorah by the first century historian Josephus.

In the next phase, the team plans to expand the search for ancient paint over the entire surface of the arch, which will also be scanned in 3D. The data collected will enable the Yeshiva University team to create a three-dimensional digital model of how the arch originally appeared, including the colors decorating its surface. The model will be added to Rome Reborn, a 3D digital model of the entire city of Rome at the peak of its development.

Team members present in Rome included:  Prof. Steven Fine, Director, Yeshiva University Center for Israel Studies, Project Director; Prof. Bernard Frischer, Co-Director, Senior Scientist of PublicVR and Director of the Rome Reborn project at the University of Virginia; Dr. Cinzia Conti, Archaeologist, Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma; Prof. Paolo Liverani, Professor of Archaeology, University of Florence; Dr. Heinrich Piening, Senior Conservator, State of Bavaria Department for the Conservation of Castles, Gardens, and Lakes. The firm of Unocad was represented by engineers Giovanni Nardotto and Ivano Ambrosini.

Dr. Piening was responsible for detecting the traces of yellow ochre on the Menorah relief. His discovery was all the more remarkable in that he uses a non-invasive technique called UV-VIS spectrometry, which means that the arch can be studied with no risk of damage.

The report of this pilot project will appear in the fall, 2012 issue of Images: A Journal of Jewish Art and Visual Culture.

Bernard Frischer said that "the success of the pilot project bodes well for achieving our overall goal of digitally restoring the arch to its original glory.  It is exciting to imagine the menorah that Jesus saw in the Jerusalem Temple.  I’m sure that amazing things are in store when we see how the rest of the reliefs were painted"

Heinrich Piening said “examining an artwork of such historical importance in an international and interreligious group of experts is a highly rewarding experience.”

Cinzia Conti  said: “The Archaeological Superintendency supported this project because studying a monument like the Arch of Titus makes it possible to appreciate how it was made and offers a better basis for protecting and conserving it.  The study of the way the reliefs were painted promises to bring the Arch back to life by showing us how it looked when it was first erected.

For these reasons, we considered the pilot project highly worthwhile, and now that the results are in, a complete success.  We must proceed as soon as possible to the full study, which will give us the colors used to paint the entire Arch, and place the digitally restored Arch of Titus back into its context in the ancient city.

Steven Fine said: "The menorah on the Arch of Titus has been a symbol of Jewish resolve for 2000 years, and is now the symbol of modern Israel.  To see its original golden color again is thrilling. I can’t wait to see what we find next.”

The Arch of Titus Digital Restoration Project

From June 5-7, 2012 an international team of scholars organized by the YU Center for Israel Studies assembled at the Arch of Titus and scanned its bas reliefs for evidence of their ancient colors. To view a photo slideshow of our work in Rome, click here.

Click here to see the coverage of the Arch of Titus Digital Restoration Project in Haaretz.
Click here to see coverage of the Arch of Titus Digital Restoration Project in the New York Times

The Arch of Titus in the Roman forum
-The Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum

Constructed soon after the death of Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus in 81 CE, the Arch of Titus commemorates the Roman triumph awarded to Emperor Vespasian and to Titus, his son and heir, for their victory in the Jewish War (66-74 CE). This well-preserved, iconic monument located at the height of the Sacra Via on the route followed by Roman triumphators, contains important bas reliefs of the triumphal procession through Rome.

Dr. Fine with Dr. ContiThe Team's scaffolding inside the Arch of Titus
-L-R: Steven Fine, Project Director, and Cinzia Conti of the Somprimtendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici of Rome and her staff; The team scaffolding inside the Arch, bearing the Yeshiva University banner

The most historically important element of the reliefs’ iconography is the display of spolia from the war, including such sacred vessels from the Jerusalem Temple as the seven-branched menorah and the table of the showbread. The first-century CE Jewish historian Flavius Josephus describes the triumph and the deposition of these artifacts in Rome, and they are also mentioned in later Rabbinic literature. The menorah on the Arch of Titus is particularly significant for Jewish history and parallels literary and visual portrayals from the Roman period.

The Menorah PanelTitus Crowned
-L-R: The Menorah relief on the Arch of Titus; Titus crowned by Nike, goddess of Victory

Beginning in the 18th century, the menorah has been a common image in Christian portrayals of the destruction of Jerusalem. In the 19th century the menorah on the Arch of Titus took on iconic status in Jewish contexts and hence was chosen as the symbol of the State of Israel in 1949.

The Menorah ReliefSeal 
 -L-R, The Menorah as depicted on the Arch of Titus and the Seal of the State of Israel

The Arch of Titus, particularly the menorah panel, has been the subject of extensive scholarship. To date, no study has attempted to bring together advances in technology and historiography to reimagine this most central Roman monument as it was seen by Romans, Jews and Christians in the first centuries CE.  Recent developments in the study of the polychromy of Roman art and architecture have the potential to transform our understanding of the Arch of Titus, and particularly the menorah panel. Research on the coloration of ancient sculpture and architecture by Vinzenz Brinkmann, Raimund Wünsche, and our team member Paolo Liverani has resulted in numerous publications as well as influential exhibitions at the Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek, Munich (2003), the Vatican Museums (2004), the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge (2007) and, most recently, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu (2008).

Dr. Frischer
-Bernard Frischer, Project co-Director, photographs the relief

Project Co-director Bernard Frischer has been major participant in this developing area of scholarship, notably in his current projects on 3D data capture and modeling of ancient sculpture, on creating new digital tools for painting and displaying 3D models of ancient sculpture and on the polychromy of a marble portrait of Caligula at the Virginia Museum, a project co-directed by project Co-Director Peter Schertz of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. These developments spurred Steven Fine, a participant in the Virginia-based team that worked on the Caligula portrait and Director of The Arch of Titus Project, to begin an exploration of polychromy and cultural significance of color in ancient Jewish art, beginning with late antique synagogue decoration.

 Caligula restoredThe technicians
-L-R, Caligula Restored at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Technicians work at night to scan the reliefs

The Arch of Titus Project will have important significance for the study of Roman architecture, as no monument of the Flavian period has yet been subjected to pigmentation analysis to reveal its original coloration. It is also projected to be of great importance for the study of the appearance of the sacred vessels of the Second Temple in the first century CE, as well as of the Herodian building projects in ancient Judaea, especially King Herod’s rebuilding of the Second Temple in the first century CE. It will thus expand the reach of the new field of research surrounding polychromy in the ancient world beyond Classics and Classical Archaeology into the fields of Judaic studies and early Christian history.

Dr. Fine on site in Rome 
-Steven Fine, on site in Rome 

There is much reason to be hopeful for success in determining the program of the Arch of Titus' polychromy. The overall state of preservation of the Arch is excellent. The areas of greatest interest are underneath the intrados of the Arch and hence were protected against the elements. The thick patina on the interior marble surfaces give us reason for hope that some ancient pigmentation has been protected, ironically, by the centuries-long accumulation of soot and other pollutants.

Dr. Pienning at work
-Heinrich Piening, a member of the team, scanning the Menorah for traces of its original polychromy

The 2009 study of the remains of the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine by conservator Heinrich Piening, another member of our team, and archaeologist Stephan Zink showed that “most surfaces of the temple were kept uncolored as white marble (probably from Carrara) but a carefully-chosen color palette highlighted strategic elements such as capitals, entablature and doorframe. Although evidence for the original coloring remains fragmentary, sufficient information is available to allow us to consider the design strategies that lie behind the color scheme of the temple...” (p. 114).

-The reliefs were scanned by Unocad at night to avoid the interference of sunlight

These scholars used non-invasive UV-VIS Absorption Spectrometry, “a portable and nondestructive technology.” As they reported, “In all 95 pigment scans were carried out at 32 different spots.  Twenty of them brought to light significant pigment spectra” (p. 112). These are remarkable results from the study of the Temple’s battered marble remains that had first been exposed to degradation by burial in the earth and then by decades-long weathering on the surface after their excavation. Dr. Piening has employed the same techniques on the Arch of Titus.


To view reports and reflection upon our work by Prof. Fine and Dr. Piening, visit:  



Future Plans

In the next phase of this research, our team will return to Rome  to continue scanning of the Menorah panel, in the hopes of reconstructing the original polychromy of this unique monument.

A team lead by Prof. Fine and Dr. Schertz is creating a hypothetical reconstruction and re-coloration of the menorah panel, to be completed Fall, 2014.

Yeshiva University Museum is planning a major travelling exhibition based upon our work, to open in 2016!!


Our Team

An international team of art historians, conservators and historians has been assembled to study the reliefs of the Arch of Titus in all of their complexity. A technology team headed by co-director Bernard Frischer is focusing on the technical retrieval of evidence of polychromy, scanning of the reliefs and 3D digital modeling of the Arch. A team led by co-director Peter Schertz will focus on the Roman context of the Arch, including the topographical, artistic and political issues that naturally arise in any study of the monument. Director Steven Fine will oversee the entire project and lead a team dedicated to the interpretation of the Arch within Jewish and Christian contexts, from antiquity to the present.

Steven Fine, Yeshiva University, Project Director
Bernard Frischer, PublicVR, Co-Director, Senior Scientist
Peter Schertz, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Project Co-Director

Cinzia Conti, Somprimtendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici, Rome
 Louis H. Feldman, Yeshiva University
Paolo Liverani, University of Florence
Alec Mishory, Open University of Israel
Heinrich Piening, State of Bavaria
Lawrence H. Schiffman, Yeshiva University
William Stenhouse, Yeshiva University

Research Assistants:  Mordechai Friedman, Yaakov Fine




Polychromy in Ancient Art and Architecture
Brinkmann, V. 2003. Die Polychromie der archaischen und frühklassischen Skulptur. München: Biering & Brinkmann, 2003.
Brinkmann, V, and R. Wünsche. 2004. Bunte Götter: Die Farbigkeit antiker Skulptur. Munich: Stiftung Archäologie and the Staatlichte Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek.
Brinkmann, V, and R. Wünsche. 2007. Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity: Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Sept. 22,2007-Jan. 20, 2008, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Art Museums.
Panzanelli R., ed. 2008. The Color of Life: Polychromy in Sculpture from Antiquity to the Present. Malibu: The J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute.
Zink, S. with H. Piening, "Haec aurea templa: the Palatine temple of Apollo and its Polychromy." Journal of Roman Archaeology 22: 109-122.

The Jerusalem Temple Vessels Panel of the Arch of Titus
Fine, S. 2007. “’When I went to Rome, there I Saw the Menorah...’: The Jerusalem Temple Implements between 70 C.E. and the Fall of Rome,” in The Archaeology of Difference: Gender, Ethnicity, Class and the “Other” in Antiquity Studies in Honor of Eric M. Meyers. Eds. D. R. Edwards and C. T. McCollough. Boston: American Schools Of Oriental Research. 1: 169-80.
Millar, F. 2005. “Last Year in Jerusalem.” Flavius Josephus and Flavian Rome. Ed. J. Edmondson, S. Mason, and J. Rives. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 101-28
Mishory, A. 2000. Lo and Behold: Zionist Icons and Visual Symbols in Israeli Culture. Tel Aviv: Yediot Aharonot. 138-96. Hebrew.

The Arch of Titus: General
Holloway, R. R. 1987. “Some Remarks on the Arch of Titus.” L’Antiquite Classique 56: 183-91.
Kleiner, F. S. 1990. “The Arches of Vespasian in Rome.” Römische Mitteilungen 97: 127-36.
Pfanner, M. 1983. Der Titusbogen. Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern.
Yarden, L. 1991. The Spoils of Jerusalem on the Arch of Titus. Stockholm: Svenska Institut I Rome