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Wednesday, May 31 • 3:30pm - 4:00pm
039. (Objects) What makes the white in white-on-red ware? A study of two white-on-red Etruscan pithoi.

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This study characterizes the white decoration and extent of previous restorations of two white-on-red pithoi in the J. Paul Getty Museum collections. Produced during the latter part of the 7th c. B.C., white-on-red wares were short-lived but popular during the Orientalizing period. One of the Getty's pithoi contains an early depiction of the blinding of Polyphemos from the Odyssey, making it an important initial example of a classical motif. However, some unusual details in the illustration prompted the investigation of the media to define any modern restorations that would obscure the original. The second white-on-red pithos from the collection is covered in geometric decoration and was studied simultaneously to support the broader understanding of the white media. The era of production of the ceramic was confirmed with thermoluminescence (TL) dating, but distinguishing restored decoration from original was challenging due to an overall coating and the nature of over-paint. Restorations lacked significant amounts of historic or modern white colorants, such as lead white or titanium white, that were commonly used to mimic slip in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Although technical studies of white-on-red wares are few, recent research performed by other institutions has identified the white decoration as a kaolin slip. A combination of analytical techniques was used in the current study including ultraviolet illumination (UV-VIS fluorescence), x-ray fluorescence (XRF), Fourier transform infrared (FTIR), Raman spectroscopy and scanning electron microscopy-energy dispersive spectroscopy (SEM-EDS). Results indicate the likely presence of kaolin and gypsum in the Polyphemos pithos, but identified calcium carbonate as the dominant colorant in the geometric pithos. These findings indicate that the media may not have been fired-on, as is suggested in other studies, or is highly masked by modern restorations. The present work addresses the challenge of identifying a kaolin-based (alumino-silicate) medium on top of a ceramic substrate, with modern over-paint and/or overall coatings present, and defining restorations that use pigments such as calcium carbonate that were also available in ancient contexts. Archaeological details, such as manganese staining, and visual comparisons with contemporaneous objects provide additional clues about the original white design.

avatar for Sara Levin

Sara Levin

Assistant Objects Conservator, Mack Art Conservation
Sara Levin is a Project Objects Conservator at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City and Assistant Object Conservator at Mack Art Conservation where she works on a range of modern and contemporary objects and sculpture. She received a Master of Science in Art Conservation from the... Read More →

avatar for Lynn Lee

Lynn Lee

Assistant Scientist, Getty Conservation Institute
Lynn Lee received her PhD in physical chemistry from the University of California Berkeley. Her current areas of research include the study of traditional—especially those used in antiquities—and modern artist materials and techniques using non- or minimally invasive analytical... Read More →
avatar for Jeffrey Maish

Jeffrey Maish

Associate Conservator of Antiquities, J. Paul Getty Museum
Jeff Maish has worked on the conservation of ancient art across the full range of object types and media. He conducts technical studies and publishes research on ancient technologies, with a focus on bronze casting, the manufacture of Attic black-and-red figured pottery, and... Read More →

Wednesday May 31, 2017 3:30pm - 4:00pm CDT
Riverside West Exhibit Hall Exhibit Level, East Tower
  9. Poster, Objects