Kelsey Museum Explores the Colorfulness of the Roman World

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In its latest special exhibition “Ancient Color”, the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology takes a closer look at color in the Roman world. You still have until May 26, 2019 to visit the fascinating exhibition!

Head of Dionysus, 117-138 CE. Museum purchase KM 1974.04.0001. Photo: Kelsey Museum.


Although we often associate ancient Rome with white marble sculpture and austere architecture, to be a Roman was to be immersed in color. Statues and buildings were painted in vibrant hues, and homes, clothing, and art were bright with color. In the exhibition Ancient Color, the Kelsey Museum explores what it was like to live in this Roman world of color. How were pigments and dyes produced and used?




Did the Romans think about color the same way that we do today? In addition to displays of ancient artifacts, “Ancient Color” invites visitors to explore the scientific techniques used by conservators who study how the Romans made, used, and experienced color.

This exhibition is curated by Cathy Person, Kelsey Museum education and outreach coordinator, and Caroline Roberts, Kelsey Museum conservator.

Barosso Watercolor, reproduction of a wall painting from a room in the Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii. Artist: Maria Barosso, 1924–1925. KM 2000.2.7a,b. Photo: Kelsey Museum.

The Kelsey houses a collection of more than 100,000 ancient and medieval objects from the civilizations of the Mediterranean and Near Eastern regions. A selection of these objects is on permanent display in the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing.

A last curator tour will be offered on May 5, 2019 at 2:00 pm. All events are free and open to the public.

More information about the exhibition, including a comprehensive list of exhibits, is available online.

University of Michigan science writer Liz Watson has published an interesting review of the exhibition.

Once you’ve learned more about the use of color in Ancient Rome, why don’t you check out our podcasts to learn more about the topic of money in Ancient Rome?

Here, you can watch the exhibition opening discussion, “Investigating Ancient Color,” with co-curators Cathy Person and Caroline Roberts with discussants Hilary Becker, Gregory Smith, Mark Abbe, and Christina Biscula.


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