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

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.”

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Article courtesy of YU Israel Center