Abstract: Archaeologists attempt to reconstruct human experience from excavated fragments of material culture. This challenge plays out in a microcosm as we try to reconstruct the original appearance of ancient sculptures whose painted surfaces have long faded. How do we keep our own worldview and tastes from interfering? A relief fragment from the ancient Persian capital city Persepolis in Iran, now in the collection of the Harvard Art Museums, presents a case in point. Depicting the figure in the winged disk often interpreted as the Zoroastrian deity Ahura Mazda, it preserves significant traces of its ancient coloration. By way of a tour of Persepolis, this lecture places the relief in its original context. It discusses the relief’s scientific examination in the museums’ lab as well as the resulting reconstruction efforts. It also probes the history of modern, often ambivalent attitudes toward colorfulness, partly tracing them back to changes in the ancient Greek view and use of color in the wake of the Greco-Persian Wars.
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