Decoding Color: Pigments in Domestic Decoration in the Classical Period (15 min)


Alice Clinch, Cornell University


To date, we have a very limited understanding of pigments in painted plaster from the fifth century B.C.E., due to the fact that very little material survives. Most existing information is based on literary sources on monumental painting, but the focus here is on how to approach Classical-period domestic decoration based on archaeological material.

This paper presents a case study on painted plaster discovered during the 2015–2016 excavations as part of the project, Cityscape of Sicilian Naxos, a collaboration between the Archaeological Park of Naxos and the Finnish Institute at Athens. Naxos was the first Greek settlement in Sicily, founded in 735/734 B.C.E. and occupied until the city’s destruction by Syracuse in 403 B.C.E. Previous investigations under the auspices of the Cityscape of Sicilian Naxos project between 2012–2019 have focused on city planning and architecture, including architectural material such as roof tiles and antefixes. However, wall and floor plasters have not ordinarily survived due to the acidity of the soil at the site. The investigated material in this presentation comes from domestic contexts, deposited into a well on the site after the city’s destruction and includes both painted plaster and raw pigments. While the material is too fragmentary to provide information on the decorative program of the domestic buildings, surface analysis with portable x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (pXRF) has shed light on the pigments used in the painted plasterwork.

This presentation combines archaeometric analyses within a theoretical framework on color theory to understand the implications of the use of pigments within the domestic spaces at Naxos and presents a new way of understanding color within ancient architecture.