Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Colors, Gilding and Painted Motifs in Persepolis: Approaching the Polychromy of Achaemenid Persian Architectural Sculpture, c. 520-330 BCE.

Nagel, Alexander
This dissertation is about aspects of polychromy preserved on the monuments of the Achaemenid palaces at Persepolis and Susa, in Iran. It first offers an historiographical study of modern engagements with aspects of colors and gilding in the ancient Near East, especially from the nineteenth century onward. It then provides a documentary and interpretive analysis of the originally intended motifs in applied paints and embellishments on the stone monuments of the imperial centers of Persepolis and Susa. My research incorporates data based on three study seasons at the site of Persepolis (from 2007 to 2009), one study season on the site of Susa (2008), work in museum collections (including the National Museum of Iran, Tehran; the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin; Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago) and archives (especially those of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Art, Washington DC, and the Oriental Institute, Chicago). The monuments of Persepolis have been designated a UNESCO world cultural heritage site since 1979. The history of its excavations and of restoration/conservation on its monuments reveals how well-intended efforts have often eliminated traces of the paint on the surface of the monuments. The empirical physical data assembled here (combined with substantial integration of archival documents previously undiscovered) allow Persepolis to emerge as an important type-site for issues in polychromies of empire—created in this instance in an international age of travelling artisans working on projects imbued with high programmatic intent as conveyors of ideological messages. This dissertation is, then, ultimately about materialities and visual values at the Achaemenid court. Achaemenid imperial texts carved on rock reliefs, palaces, and structural walls were “animated” by luminous colors. So too, the sculptural renderings of palatial installations, with complex metaphorically charged iconographies, must now be understood as intimately enhanced in meaning by color and gilding. The project of this dissertation opens up possibilities for a new collaborative era of an archaeology of polychromy. It also serves as a call for increased international efforts to pursue strategies of documentation, preservation, and conservation that can adequately address the significance of an important aspect of the material record



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