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Chemistry department participates in interdisciplinary study of ancient Roman marble relief at the Georgia Museum of Art

In antiquity, Greek and Roman marble sculpture was not pristine white but colorfully painted. Members of the UGA community now have a unique example of once-polychrome ancient sculpture on campus for scientific study.

Collaboration between UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and the University of Mississippi Museum has brought the “Orpheus Relief” to the Georgia Museum of Art (GMOA) from Sept. 30, 2012, to March 31, 2013. This sculpture with rare vestiges of ancient painting will be on public display at GMOA and available to participating faculty for interdisciplinary study.

Tina Salguero, assistant professor of chemistry, and her research group will characterize surface materials at the nano- and micro-length scales and apply a variety of analytical techniques to the minute amounts of pigments and binding media that remain on the relief. Salguero said, “It’s uncommon for a project to be so interdisciplinary, and I’m excited about the prospects of bringing together equal parts of cutting-edge science, art history and archaeology.”

Further technical expertise will be provided by Jeff Speakman, associate director of the Center for Applied Isotope Studies. He will coordinate in situ materials analysis by X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy and multispectral imaging, as well as direct the characterization of the relief’s marble.

The designer of the project, Mark Abbe, assistant professor of ancient art at UGA’s Lamar Dodd School of Art, expressed his excitement for “the opportunity to exhibit at the museum and on UGA’s campus this important, but little-known ancient work of art and to combine its study with the interdisciplinary educational aims of the university.”

Students from several UGA departments will have the chance to participate in the research as it unfolds, including both undergraduate and graduate chemistry students in the Salguero group and those enrolled in Spring 2013 CHEM4400 (Special Topics in Inorganic Chemistry).

This fragment survives from a larger, three-figured composition depicting the god Hermes escorting Eurydice to the Underworld during her final parting from Orpheus. The larger composition is one of the most celebrated examples of Greek sculpture from the High Classical period. This Roman copy of the relief dates from the 1st century B.C. to the 2nd century A.D., during which time precise marble reproductions of such esteemed “antique” works of Greek art were produced for display in the private luxury villas of the Roman elite.

Research progress will be highlighted at The project participants also will present the results of their interdisciplinary study at a public lecture and discussion at GMOA on March 28, 2013, at 5:30 p.m.

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