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Red-Painted Stones in Roman Architecture

Author(s): Pier Luigi Tucci
Source: American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 115, No. 4 (October 2011), pp. 589-610
Published by: Archaeological Institute of America
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3764/aja.115.4.0589 .
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Red-Painted Stones in Roman Architecture
PIER LUIGI TUCCI

The practice of using red paint on the squared-stone
masonry of some of the most important buildings of imperial Rome has been generally overlooked. The only
exception is a very short passage by Lugli in his 1957
work on Roman building techniques, where he notes
that “in some monuments (hall of the Forma Urbis,
Mausoleum of Hadrian, Temple of Divus Antoninus
and Diva Faustina) the blocks were painted, whilst laid
in place, with a red color, made of earth and water,
on one or more surfaces.”1 For the hall of the Forma
Urbis, it is likely that Lugli had in mind the travertine
blocks of the rear wall of the southeast portico of the
Templum Pacis, whose section is visible on the right
side of the brick wall of the Severan Marble Plan. Although most of these blocks are now broken, two show
the original vertical ends, which still preserve some pale

traces of a red coat. Strangely, he does not mention
the blocks visible inside the monastery of SS. Cosma
e Damiano, where the red surfaces are much better
preserved (fig. 1) and were already visible in his day.
Lugli’s statement, however, is not correct for a
number of reasons. For instance, he seems to follow
a chronological order in his list of buildings, thus assigning the red-painted blocks of the Templum Pacis to the original Vespasianic phase of the building
(71–75 C.E.), whereas they belong to the post-192 C.E.
Severan restoration.2 Furthermore, four other buildings can be added to Lugli’s list: the Colosseum, the
Temple of Divus Hadrianus in the Campus Martius,
the so-called podium by the Arch of Titus, and the
Arch of Septimius Severus. It is also worth noting that
in these buildings the red surfaces were painted well
before the blocks were laid in place and not “whilst laid
in place.” If the red paint really consisted of earth and
water, as Lugli believed, it would not have lasted until
today. Also, Lugli’s indication of the painted surfaces
(“one or more surfaces”) is vague; indeed, with just a
few exceptions, the red layer appears only on the lower
surface and on one vertical surface of each block.
Lugli admitted that the purpose of this colored coating was not clear, and he associated the red layer with
the practice of “smearing the top surfaces of the already
laid blocks with a thin layer of pure and very diluted
lime, before placing a new row of blocks on them.”3 Not
even this explanation is convincing, mainly because in
the three buildings mentioned by Lugli, the red layer
is accompanied by precisely that white layer of lime

* I gave a preliminary notice on this topic at the conference “Les chantiers de construction en Italie et dans les provinces romaines: L’économie des chantiers,” held in Paris at
the Ècole Normale Supérieure (10–11 December 2009); I decided, however, not to publish my paper in the proceedings
of that conference, and I thank Hélène Dessales for her understanding. I wish to thank Leonardo Lombardi and Marie
Jackson for their geological expertise; Janet DeLaine for her
advice on architectural matters; and Amanda Claridge, Lucos
Cozza, Marie-Laurence Haack, Clemente Marconi, Daniele
Manacorda, Enrico Zanini, Cecilia Bernardini, Domenico
Poggi, and Allan Ceen for their collaboration. Lynne Lancaster shared with me her knowledge of the Colosseum and gave
me her advice on a variety of issues. I also thank the friars of SS.
Cosma e Damiano for allowing me access to both monastery

and basilica over the years and the Nobile Collegio Chimico
Farmaceutico at S. Lorenzo in Miranda. I am also grateful to
the History of Art Department of the Johns Hopkins University for providing generous funds for the analysis of the red
samples. Last but not least, I wish to thank the reviewers of
the AJA and Editor-in-Chief Naomi J. Norman for her observations and support, as well as the AJA staff. Translations and
illustrations are by the author unless otherwise noted.
1
Lugli 1957, 1:242.
2
Lugli (1957, 1:303–6) believed that the Temple of Divus
Antoninus and Diva Faustina was the last building made of
blocks of Lapis Albanus in Rome, thus implying that their use
in the Templum Pacis dated to the age of Vespasian. The same
mistake occurs in Frank 1924, 24.
3
Lugli 1957, 1:243.

Abstract
The presence of red paint on the surfaces of some travertine and Lapis Albanus blocks has rarely been noticed
and never investigated. Yet it deserves consideration since
it preserves evidence of an unknown building technique
that involved the use of red ocher and binders such as
burnt gypsum, which was employed in the city of Rome
from the late first to early third centuries C.E. I present
evidence for the presence of red-painted blocks in Rome
and investigate the composition of the red paint. I also
comment on what has previously been reported about the
subject and argue that the function of the red layer was
to certify that the architect and/or the contractor had
approved the painted surfaces.*

introduction

American Journal of Archaeology 115 (2011) 589–610

589

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with a red coat on the lower and vertical contact surfaces: left. Blocks of Lapis Albanus used in the Severan restoration of the Templum Pacis (now in the monastery of SS.). junction between the rear wall of the southwest portico and the side wall of the hall toward the Via Sacra (second landing of the monastery’s main staircase)...).590 PIER LUIGI TUCCI [AJA 115 Fig. 1.). which suggests possible restorations in ashlar masonry. 200 C.E.E. Cozza and A. 2011) noticed the red layer in the northernmost of the attic rooms of the Arch of Septimius Severus (dedicated in 203 C.).E. all in the city of Rome (fig.194. the podium by the Arch of Titus (ca.E. and 138–145 C. This content downloaded from 193. 3). the monuments of the series were constructed with red-painted blocks during the second century C. L. some of the piers are built with different tuff blocks (Ceccherelli and Mancioli 2001. rear wall of the southeast portico (monastery’s ground floor). and one or two certainly had a dressed surface covered with red paint. 6 Feb 2015 08:32:16 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Most of these buildings were made of blocks of Lapis Tiburtinus (travertine) and Lapis Albanus (also known as peperino). the block of travertine in the center of the floor has been smashed into fragments. 2). 359) noticed a thin layer of limewash occasionally painted red in the piers of the Aqua Claudia (52 C.E.).E. apparently during an attempt to extract it from the core of the arch. Lanciani’s piers should belong to the original Claudian phase.E. Nevertheless. Since the restorations of this aqueduct were done in brick. I first present the evidence I have collected on this subject and then argue that the red paint served to mark the surfaces of the blocks that were approved by the architect and/ or contractor and were available to be placed in the building under construction.E. Claridge (pers. occurrence of red-painted stones in rome Blocks whose surfaces are characterized by a coat of red paint are visible in at least seven important buildings.E. without any traces of red paint. 66–7) mentioned this hole but not the red layer. This room is missing all its concrete flooring.4 4 Lanciani (1881. (fig. built beginning in 71 C. With the exception of the Colosseum.E. respectively). the surface in question is likely to be the underside of the smashed block. They are the Mausoleum and the Temple of Divus Hadrianus (built in 130–139 C. 172).5 on Fri.76. and restored after the fire of 217 C.). and the Arch of Septimius Severus (195–203 C. Some fragments have been left in the hole. To counter Lugli’s argument. Cosma e Damiano). right. the Temple of Divus Antoninus and Diva Faustina (after 140 C. comm. the Templum Pacis as restored by Septimius Severus (after 192 C.E. Brilliant (1967. Since the top surfaces of all the surrounding blocks and some of their vertical sides are exposed.

147 n.5 Substantial sections of the structure usually considered to be original Flavian work in fact belong to the reconstructions made after the fire of 217 C. 4c). b.5 on Fri. 8 At level II of the northern ambulatory of the amphitheater. All the other red blocks belong to the sectors rebuilt from the ground up in the Severan age. and I have never seen it in combination with the white layer in that building. in the second-century buildings whose blocks are characterized by the red layer. considering that the red paint is attested in other Severan buildings). now laid at the foot of a pier. 6 Feb 2015 08:32:16 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Interestingly. (although the piers 591 Fig. Perhaps it was precisely in the Flavian amphitheater that Roman builders began to use the red paint. 2. in the Colosseum the red layer seems to be very well hidden. in the sixth pier (starting from the exterior) between bays 57 and W (where the lower surfaces of two travertine blocks are clearly visible because of a gap in the masonry). 4b). The original piers in the ambulatories do not show any traces of red paint. Pius 8.7 All in all. These traces have been tentatively interpreted as the marks used to put in place the travertine blocks before the inauguration of 80 C. restoration).E. c. the white layer fills a red-painted cavity in the lower surface of a Severan block of Lapis Albanus (rear wall of the southwest portico.E. second landing of the monastery’s main staircase). it appears in the pier that is now closer to the arena between bays S and 1 (fig. an erratic block of travertine. 4a). showing lime and red paint: a. very thick white layer on the top surface of a Severan travertine block (rear wall of the southeast portico. figs. monastery’s ground floor). in the two inner piers of the outer ambulatory at bay 44.E. as if this were used only in the smaller piers located along the short axis of the Colosseum. In the inset. only the first two piers in my list are certainly Flavian.2011] RED-PAINTED STONES IN ROMAN ARCHITECTURE I have seen the red layer in different sectors of the Flavian amphitheater. in its actual position) with clear traces of red paint preserved (see fig. and inside the monastery of SS. Cosma e Damiano. when my research was concluded. 24 [plans of levels I–II with labeled bays]). on the lower surfaces of a few travertine blocks at level I (ground level). possibly in an experimental way.8 It is also worth stressing that the amphitheater and the Templum Pacis. Severan blocks of Lapis Albanus in the rear wall of the porticoes (now monastery’s ground floor).2)—together with the earliest repairs to the Colosseum (“instauratum amphitheatrum”). respectively). has a surface (the vertical one. 23. This block may even belong to a mid second-century restoration of the amphitheater: two of the buildings with red-painted blocks are listed in the Historia Augusta among the works of Antoninus Pius—the “templum Hadriani honori patris dicatum” and the “sepulchrum Hadriani” (SHA Ant. indeed.76.E. Apparently the red paint was used again and more extensively during the post-217 C. This content downloaded from 193. Its rarity may be due to very occasional use. the colored surfaces are not difficult to find. 7 No doubt other traces would be found if a more extensive search were conducted. 13. were built at the same time and with blocks of travertine 5 The numbers of the bays refer to the inscribed Roman numerals above the arches of the facade (Lancaster 1998. both presumably paid for from the booty of the Jewish War. the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma announced that traces of red paint on some piers of the outer ambulatory at level II were discovered during the course of a preliminary restoration ( January–April 2011) (La Repubblica [10 April 2011] 1).6 Thus. 6 Lancaster 1998. and in a single pier at level II (the outer surviving pier. originally the third starting from the exterior. specifically. the Colosseum witnessed the first and last use of the red paint. in question would belong to the post-217 C. in the seventh pier (starting from the exterior) between bays 38 and N (see fig. between bays 58 and 59) (see fig.194. 4d). Blocks of the Templum Pacis. restoration of the amphitheater itself (which is not surprising. d. Indeed. The painted surface is not perfectly smooth. e. where the white layer is often missing. Flavian blocks of Tufo Lionato with white layer of lime in the rear wall of the Templum Pacis (along the clivus.

both of travertine and Lapis Albanus. Plin.7). “having prodigious resources of wealth on which to draw” ( Joseph. Colosseum. Arch of Septimius Severus (modified from LTUR 3:484. the red paint seems to have been more systematically used.76. 7. Here. indicates that the practice of using red paint cannot on its own be considered a reliable element for dating construction. like a river” were displayed during Vespasian’s triumphal procession ( Joseph. suggesting that the purpose of the red layer was not to make the blocks slide or to bind them together— indeed. 60). . 4. The construction of the Colosseum out of the spoils of the Jewish War is attested by the Vespasianic inscription CIL 6 40454a deciphered on a block of Proconnesian marble reused in 444 C.5). see Conti 2008.84). s. “Muri Aureliani”). These resources might well have been the riches previously looted by Nero (cf. and on one of the vertical contact surfaces. it never affects any other finished surfaces. Mausoleum of Hadrian. fig. Although the most important spoils from the Temple in Jerusalem were stored in the Templum Pacis itself. the red surfaces of the blocks of Lapis Albanus are often in contact with the concrete core.. 6 Feb 2015 08:32:16 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .5. nevertheless “silver and gold and ivory in masses . 153–54). The colored paint was invariably applied to the lower surface of the blocks.v. . leaving exposed the concrete core and the ends of occasional headers intended to bond the facing to the core itself (fig. and its appearance in both the Flavian and Severan piers of travertine in the Colosseum. BJ 7.E. 2. 3. flowing.5 on Fri. and Tufo Lionato. 190. the blocks were laid in place and eventually 9 After his triumph in 71 C.194. 5a. HN 34. but they are generally connected with the booty of the Jewish War (see Claridge 1998.9 The red layer was never applied to the blocks of tuff. Templum Pacis (Severan restoration).E. podium by the Arch of Titus.5. the facing of which has been robbed over the centuries.19. BJ 7. On an earlier reuse of that inscribed block. Temple of Divus Hadrianus. In the Mausoleum of Hadrian. I have carefully examined the west side of the circular drum. See Alföldi (1995) and particularly Feldman (2001. but only on the Severan blocks of the Templum Pacis. who lists other buildings financed from the booty of the Jewish War. Vespasian built the Templum Pacis. 6. b). This content downloaded from 193. since the great majority of Roman temples were victory monuments. Temple of Divus Antoninus and Diva Faustina. Locations of Roman buildings with red-painted stones (in chronological order): 1.592 PIER LUIGI TUCCI [AJA 115 Fig. 3. so to speak. 5.

5 on Fri. apparently removed to open the passage itself. While a careful examination of the ashlar masonry of the exterior north side of the cella (toward the This content downloaded from 193. b. between bays 58 and 59. level I (ground level). b. Red-painted blocks at the Mausoleum of Hadrian: a. In the entrance corridor. as are the voussoirs of both arches and vault (see fig. blocks of Lapis Albanus inserted into the concrete core of the west side of the circular drum. The travertine blocks in the walls of the funerary chamber are also painted red. c.2011] RED-PAINTED STONES IN ROMAN ARCHITECTURE 593 Fig. however. block of travertine in the northern ambulatory. c. not in situ. the rectangular niche on the left is particularly noteworthy since the underfaces of the travertine blocks of its ceiling are perfectly dressed but not painted red. in the outer surviving pier. The red layer also appears on the blocks of Lapis Albanus of the Temple of Divus Hadrianus. apparently because they were not superimposed on other blocks. level II. level II. red underface of a block of travertine above a modern passage in the entrance corridor. the dowel holes attest that these were originally laid on a lower course of blocks. travertine blocks and voussoirs painted red in the funerary chamber. whereas. in the pier that is now closer to the arena between bays S and 1. above a modern passage on the left. the possibility that most of the red-painted surfaces of these headers originally matched other blocks that are now missing (otherwise. The red paint appears elsewhere in the entrance corridor and also in the vestibule. 5c). There. d–f. 5d–f). the red paint is totally absent in the uppermost blocks of the Mausoleum. The presence of dowel holes and a pour channel suggests a reuse or at least a change of destination of the blocks themselves. their surviving ends would be rough). surrounded by the concrete. 6 Feb 2015 08:32:16 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .76. One cannot exclude. level I. d. 5. in the seventh pier (starting from the exterior) between bays 38 and N. which was built as the Mausoleum of Hadrian was being completed. 4. as far as I could see. Fig. originally the third starting from the exterior.194. Red paint on the lower surfaces of travertine blocks at the Colosseum: a. the red layer is very well preserved on the inferior surface of a row of travertine blocks (see fig.

the red layer can still be detected on the lower surfaces of some blocks (see fig. Cosma e Damiano and the so-called Temple of Romulus may also be Severan. Indeed. Its lower surface. the red-painted blocks of Lapis Albanus used in the Severan restoration of the Templum Pacis were lifted by means of lewis irons. Cosma e Damiano. This content downloaded from 193. bottom) and on a few side faces (e. Cosma e Dami- ano clearly show that the blocks of Tufo Lionato constitute the original Flavian structure. the painted surfaces of which are not perfectly smooth (fig. this structure is so badly preserved that it is virtually impossible to reconstruct its original layout. at the west corner of the podium. which were surely painted during Cozza’s excavation. (forthcoming). appears only on the lower surface and on one of the side surfaces (fig. The blocks of the side walls of the cella were also lifted by means of forceps. (The fragments should be the remainders of the demolition of the southeast wall of the hall toward the Via Sacra. Lorenzo in Miranda. below the modern nameplate. This suggests that the use of red paint has nothing to do with the way the blocks were lifted: indeed. through the gaps in the structure and wherever the blocks are broken. attesting that the Severan restoration after the fire of 192 C. 7. even in the case of travertine blocks. 8). Now.11 The red layer. as usual.76. was more radical than was generally assumed (and showing—together with Peruzzi’s drawings (Florence. see Tucci 2009. Cosma e Damiano. 65–84. the red layer has not been noticed by the diggers (Fogagnolo and Rossi 2010). is clearly missing from the blocks of travertine and Tufo Lionato from the original Flavian phase. inset]). top). the red paint is visible on the lower and vertical joints of both travertine and Lapis Albanus blocks. The Severan red-painted blocks can be seen at the extremities of the surviving stretch of ashlar wall toward the Basilica of Maxentius and in the rear wall of the southeast and southwest porticoes. In the podium by the Arch of Titus. hidden by wooden ceilings and roofs. 7. Uffizi Gallery. 200 C. and incorporated into the monastery and basilica of SS. both the travertine and the tuff blocks were lifted by means of forceps. the red layer.E. as in the upper rows. Cosma e Damiano.594 PIER LUIGI TUCCI [AJA 115 Piazza di Pietra) is not possible from ground level. 6 Feb 2015 08:32:16 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . consists of courses of single blocks. Other painted blocks were found in the recent excavation of the axial hall of the Templum Pacis. 7. In the wall of the cella toward the basilica of SS.10 In contrast. some red blocks not in situ were brought to light near this buttress during Cozza’s excavation of the hall of the Severan Marble Plan (1955–1956). so that in most cases only their ends are visible. Such 10 On the identification of the podium. and blocks at different levels can be examined. while the blocks of Lapis Albanus belong to a second phase structurally linked to the Severan brickwork. Reused fragments of blocks of Lapis Albanus with red surfaces can be seen in a wall built against the Basilica of Maxentius near the hall of the Marble Plan.E. is completely painted red. the presence of the red layer does constitute another key factor in distinguishing between the Flavian and Severan phases.5 on Fri. On the Templum Pacis. In the case of the Templum Pacis. the red layer is not visible (the joints are extremely dirty). Unfortunately.. or free. architectural drawings 382–83)—that the Christian basilica was installed in a Flavian hall of the complex). especially inside the holes left by the robbers who removed the iron clamps (fig.) 12 The walls of the Templum Pacis at SS. and near the entrance to the Roman Forum [see fig. Cosma e Damiano. It needs to be stressed that the walls of the podium were so massive as to require rows of blocks placed transversely. No doubt these blocks were not lifted by means of lewis irons. because whenever a long vertical surface is visible. 11 I have noticed the imprints of at least 20 courses of blocks 75 cm high left on the northwest buttress of the Basilica of Maxentius. like the marble elements reused for the main entrance toward the Via Sacra.E. the red layer is clearly visible on the lower surfaces of the blocks of Lapis Albanus used in the podium. which bears the traces left by the chisel. again in this case. these blocks also show some red-painted marks. restored after the fire of 192 C. the hole used for the forceps also appears. on the opposite side of the same wall. but on the opposite side of the temple. the rear wall of its southeast portico. see Ziolkowski 2004. which is usually identified with the Temple of Jupiter Stator and dates to ca. In addition.194.g. including the corner between the rear walls of the southeast and southwest porticoes as well as the joint between the latter and the side wall of the ancient hall corresponding to the basilica of SS. 6). the thickness of which is approximately 90 cm (3 Roman feet). as attested by the typical holes for bronze hooks. In the Temple of Divus Antoninus and Diva Faustina.12 The Severan blocks invariably show the red coat on the lower surface and only one contact surface. In the first phase. (the same period as the restoration of the Templum Pacis). it does not matter whether they were veneered with marble slabs. while the use of lewis irons is typical of the higher blocks of Lapis Albanus. instead. attesting that the perimeter wall of the Templum Pacis was almost completely rebuilt with blocks of Lapis Albanus. the walls made of blocks of Lapis Albanus and travertine from the Templum Pacis.13 The Templum Pacis is a perfect case study because the preservation of the red paint in that structure is excellent. within the rooms of the convent of S. are still standing to their full height despite a series of demolitions that occurred over the centuries. as well as in the 17th-century foundation (now above ground level) of the southeast wall of the basilica of SS. 13 The marble threshold between the hall of SS.

7. The red layer appears on the lower surfaces (top. toward the interior). Red-painted blocks of Lapis Albanus at the Temple of Divus Hadrianus (north wall of the cella.2011] RED-PAINTED STONES IN ROMAN ARCHITECTURE Fig. Red-painted blocks of Lapis Albanus at the Temple of Divus Antoninus and Diva Faustina (northwest wall of the cella): interior (top) and exterior (bottom) lower surfaces and vertical surface (inset ). Fig.5 on Fri.76.194. This content downloaded from 193. bottom) and on the vertical surfaces (inset ). 6 Feb 2015 08:32:16 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions 595 . 6.

Last but not least.596 PIER LUIGI TUCCI [AJA 115 Fig. 8. and it is unlikely that this rounding was made when the iron dowels were already inserted (it would have been useless and difficult to achieve). The same detail can be seen in a dowel hole of one of the Severan blocks of the Colosseum (see fig. The painted edges of these two holes are also rounded. These elements explain why the Templum Pacis is given precedence here over the other buildings mentioned above. the red paint appears inside the dowel hole carved in the lower surface of a block of Lapis Albanus (the iron dowel has been stolen) (fig. no doubt the iron dowels could not be inserted when the lower surface of a block was lying on the ground. right). 9. 9. Indeed. 6 Feb 2015 08:32:16 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . that the only way to take a step forward and determine the function of the red paint is to focus on the Severan blocks of the Templum Pacis and find a common context for them and their predecessors. For instance. the red traces inside them indicate that the lower surfaces of the blocks were painted in the area of the Templum Pacis. evidence from the blocks at the Templum Pacis demonstrates that the red paint was applied when the holes for the iron dowels had already been prepared. the blocks would have been painted at the Templum Pacis. when the practice of using red paint had become almost standard (at least in imperial commissions). Lapis Albanus) and can be seen only on the lower surface and on one vertical contact surface of a given block. at the ground floor of the monastery of SS. Since the holes for the iron dowels were carved on the construction site. In addition. we are dealing with one of the last examples of red-painted blocks in Rome.194. Cosma e Damiano. 4c). the red paint must have something to do with imperial commissions. but it can be associated with particular building materials (Lapis Tiburtinus. This content downloaded from 193. possibly when the blocks were upside down or at least lying on their sides.14 14 Even if the red paint simply seeped between the iron dowel and the surfaces of the holes. Red layer on the blocks of the podium by the Arch of Titus: lower surfaces of blocks of travertine and Lapis Albanus (top and bottom. I believe. next to the corner between the rear walls of the southeast and southwest porticoes. however. left). All these buildings taken together reveal that the presence of red paint is not useful for dating and cannot be related to specific lifting devices (the painted blocks were lifted with iron dowels and forceps as well).76. respectively) and a general view of one of the surviving parts of the podium (inset ). The same detail can be noticed in another dowel hole at the first landing of the modern staircase (see fig. a simple structure helps illuminate how the blocks were laid in place and why only certain surfaces were painted red.5 on Fri.

covered by the red layer and containing a few traces of the white layer from the block below.16 The presence of iron oxide was confirmed through a specific microchemical test: a drop of hydrochloric acid (HCl) was poured on the sample.76. right. ground level. top) due to the presence of several colorless and translucent granules. fig. Red ocher was first identified by its color and its optical properties. inorganic compounds) the spectrum of an unknown material can be identified by comparison with a library of known compounds. 77–92. This content downloaded from 193. Cosma e Damiano. The resulting spectrum creates a molecular fingerprint of the sample. Augusti 1967. 16 Cf. the particles of the red coat were examined in reflected light through a stereomicroscope. A more sophisticated chemical-mineralogical analysis identified the main components of the red coat. between the voussoirs of the Severan door in the rear wall of the southeast portico of the Templum Pacis and the recess of the capital at the corner between the southeast and southwest porticoes (cf. and. 9. first landing of the main staircase. conducted in June 2009 by the laboratory Artelab in Rome. 2e). Cosma e Damiano): left. 10. 17 In infrared spectroscopy. which generally are identifiable as quartz and are mixed in a fine red matrix consisting of scarcely hydrated iron oxide (hematite [Fe2O3]).2011] RED-PAINTED STONES IN ROMAN ARCHITECTURE 597 Fig. some of the infrared radiation is absorbed coat is characterized by a microgranular structure (fig. and for most common materials (esp. Red paint inside the dowel holes of two blocks of Lapis Albanus from the rear wall of the southeast portico of the Templum Pacis (now in the monastery of SS. This 15 The analyses of two more samples were conducted in December 2010 by Artelab (see my discussion of the podium near the Arch of Titus and the Severan brickwork of the Templum Pacis). I thank the Johns Hopkins University for funding these tests. analyzing and re-creating the red paint Analysis of the red layer from the Templum Pacis.194. a drop of potassium ferrocyanide was added. no two unique molecular structures produce the same infrared spectrum. infrared radiation is passed through a sample. was taken from the ground floor of the monastery of SS. 6 Feb 2015 08:32:16 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . 11): by the sample itself and some of it is passed through (transmitted). Under the stereomicroscope. produced very interesting results concerning not only the identification of the red pigment but also the composition of both the red paint and the white layer. The appearance of a blue color revealed the presence of iron. when this cooled. Like a fingerprint.15 A little fragment nearly detached from the lower surface of a block of Lapis Albanus. a few dozen milligrams of the red paint were taken with a lancet from the surface of the fragment to be used for investigation by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR).17 The main components are listed below according to the decreasing intensity of the peaks in the spectrum (fig.5 on Fri.

where at the end of the 19th century there was an in- Hadrianus. and burnt gypsum (commonly known as plaster of Paris. Quartz (SiO2) 18 According to the database of FT-IR spectra. made of gypsum. dihydrate and/or hemihydrate (CaC2O4· 2H2O and/or CaC2O4· 0. It is difficult to ascertain whether gypsum was used as an aggregate in its mineral form (as a sort of white pigment) or as a binder. the metalliferous basin of the Monti della Tolfa. The dotted line indicates the direction of the strokes. 50–3).194. considering the white layer is actually made of unaltered crystals of calcite. Calcium oxalates. 20 See Wellmann 2004. and he gives a useful classification of red pigments based on quality and price. or absorption peaks. suggesting the use of a paint (not necessarily original) made with lime and gypsum (Cozza 1982. visible with a raking light. the bands. Top. 3:67.2). Various silicatic components FT-IR analysis can detect iron oxide if it is associated with other compounds and if it is present in a high enough percentage. as has been suggested in the case of the red stripes and symbols painted on the brickwork in Hadrian’s Villa).5H2O]). 371– 287 B. 7. possibly mixed with some organic substances. For instance. however. and Pedanius Dioscorides (De materia medica 5.93. cf. of the iron oxides are not visible in the diagram because they are hidden by those of other components. Phyllosilicates (hydrated aluminum silicates containing alkaline earth metals) 4. Such an intentional mixture has been noticed in the modern restorations of ancient and modern Roman buildings and has been confirmed by archival documents (Pochetti et al. 51–4).5H2O) 6. Pliny (HN 35. or calcium sulphate hemihydrate [CaSO4· 0. there is no white ground for painting.19 In conclusion.E. Gypsum (calcium sulphate dihydrate [CaSO4· 2H20]) 2. 10. red ocher. 1.20 None of these authors.18 the infrared spectrum is dominated by bands revealing the presence of gypsum. detail of the red paint on the lower surface of a block of Lapis Albanus (courtesy Artelab).7. 1991). Cosma e Damiano). The presence of gypsum cannot be explained as the result of a possible alteration of the calcite in the red layer.76. Pliny the Elder (HN 35. A great amount of gypsum has been identified in the colored layers applied on the columns of the Temple of Divus [AJA 115 5. Red ocher was first described by Theophrastus (ca. Both are from the rear wall of the southeast portico of the Templum Pacis (ground floor of the monastery of SS.) in On Stones (paras. north of Rome.126). 6 Feb 2015 08:32:16 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .. 128). Nitrates (NO3 ) 7.C. the great amount of gypsum detected by FT-IR suggests that it was used as a binder. This content downloaded from 193. the main ingredients of the red paint were water (which is to be expected). 19 To avoid misunderstandings. 5. for instance at Filettino and Subiaco along the Aniene River. 3:95. Vitruvius (De arch.e. or undercoat. In Rome and its surroundings. it should be noted that the red paint was not laid on a white layer of gypsum (i. is rich in different ferrous earths colored in yellow. red. 5. specifying uses and names.598 PIER LUIGI TUCCI Fig. lower surface of a block of Lapis Albanus. painted red with a brush.540). the resulting element is gypsum again. and brown.13–16) lists different varieties of red ocher. which is not surprising since we are not dealing with decorative painting. Calcite (calcium carbonate [CaCO3]) 3. which is not mentioned by ancient sources. bottom. cf.13–16). other ancient sources include Cato the Elder (Agr. the presence of red ocher would be indicated by bands appearing near 3600 cm-1. Nevertheless. Orig. Strabo (Geographica 12. In our case.96.5 on Fri. Attoui 2008. there must have been a local production of red ochers. mentions its use in Roman ashlar masonry. red earths are also found in various localities of the Apennine Mountains. when burnt gypsum is mixed with water.

g.182–83) was aware that “when moistened. This content downloaded from 193.23 With these characteristics in mind.5 on Fri. as well as Pedanius Dioscorides (De materia medica 5.158–59) lists four different kinds of sil and stresses that the sil mar- morosum. Italy 1881. a lower tinting strength.76. However. they were quarried for industrial purposes (e.” Pliny (HN 33. Pliny (HN 36. In the case of gypsum. since it coheres with great rapidity. 11. called ὤχρα in Greek and sil in Latin.194.35. and between the Monti della Tolfa and the Monti Sabatini (cf.59. especially with iron oxide pigments. Italy 1881. the resulting mixture is very prone to settle. Around Rome there are many deposits of gypsum. Mantovani 1884. two of Rosso di Pozzuoli (a simple ratio of 1:1. was extracted also “from some mountains twenty miles distant from the City” (“effoditur et ad XX ab urbe lapidem in montibus”). Béarat 1997.56. when used in large percentages. the Carta Geologica]). the Carta Geologica). since its color is very similar to the red surfaces of the blocks used in the Roman buildings discussed here. gypsum plaster sets within 10–20 minutes. Furthermore. the final product has a lower proportion of ferric oxide and. dustrial production of this material. 53–4)..182–83. In my final test.38).2011] RED-PAINTED STONES IN ROMAN ARCHITECTURE 599 Fig. Plin. HN 36. 5.11. Toward the end of the 19th cen- tury. at Torre d’Orlando near Corneto and in many other sites near Civitavecchia). it cannot be established whether this component of the red paint was quarried locally or imported. Direzione Generale della Statistica. 29–30. 7. xxx–xxxi. 7. according to the intensity of the peaks in the spectrum (courtesy Artelab). I employed two measures of plaster of Paris. where red ocher was quarried as well.22 Vitruvius (De arch. I tried to replicate the red paint using Rosso di Pozzuoli as a pigment.7. As for gypsum. 35.103.” Indeed.16. Identification of the main components of the red paint from the Templum Pacis by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR).1) remarks that sil “is found in many places.20. Vitruvius (De arch. 21 Direzione Generale della Statistica.17]). [it] should be used instantly. 32–7 [esp. xxxiii. allude to the conversion of sil into rubrica (red ocher) by roasting but add very little to the procedure described by Theophrastus (On Stones.2) and Pliny the Elder (HN 35. 22 Cf. 6 Feb 2015 08:32:16 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .59. Deposits of gypsum are also found within the nearby Monti della Tolfa.21 Red ocher can also be artificially produced by roasting yellow ocher. including Italy. since most yellow ochers contain a considerable proportion of sand and clay. paras. Mantovani 1884. cf.93 [cf. 23 Cf. a cheaper variety. for this reason. 32–7 (esp.

too. white layer According to Lugli. in the piers of the Aqua Claudia. Of course. The pigment. the highest peak in the spectrum of the FT-IR is due to the presence of apatite. Given the presence of burnt gypsum and other binders. the function of the red paint was neither to make the blocks slide nor to cement them together. Going back to the Templum Pacis. the red paint has nothing to do with the white layer. 12. the purpose of the red coating could be associated with the practice of smearing the top surfaces of the already laid blocks with a thin layer of pure and diluted lime. to paint two faces of a block of Lapis Albanus 2 m long with a section of 90 x 75 cm (the average dimensions of the blocks used at the Templum Pacis). but on the other did not reveal the presence of gypsum (even though the painted surfaces of the podium have long been exposed to the open air. Approximately 50 g of red ocher were necessary to paint 1 m2 of stone. noting that the mixture was very dense and tended to set immediately. It can be assessed that the redpainted surfaces in the whole Templum Pacis were equivalent to ca. 6 Feb 2015 08:32:16 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . 450 m2 (rear walls of the southeast and southwest porticoes) and 100 m2 (wall toward the clivus). the red mixture is likely to be a quicksetting paint. the joints: red vs.76. 93 [on the Colosseum]).25 In fact. as usual. with the risk of alteration of the calcite of the red 24 The surfaces painted red—as regards the remains of the Templum Pacis actually incorporated into the monastery of SS. the painted lower surfaces were not completely smooth.. right). 25 Lugli (1957. approximately 125 g of ocher would have been needed. 49) thought that the layer of lime in ashlar masonry was limited to Rome and to the Republican age and was used in monuments built with blocks of poor-quality tuffs. This means that.24 It is likely that the red paint was prepared in small quantities to be used immediately. the surviving red layers are more than 18 centuries old. To sum up. is a red ocher (the presence of minium has been excluded by a specific test for the identification of lead). in the Templum Pacis (original Vespasianic phase and Severan restoration). but I did get substantive information concerning the time needed to prepare and apply the paint and the quantity needed to cover a particular surface. following the same percentages as the Rosso di Pozzuoli. helping transfer the load more evenly from block to block. At least 600 kg of red ocher would have been necessary to paint this surface. As for the binder. the analysis of a sample of red paint taken from the Severan podium near the Arch of Titus (more precisely. however. 12. 1:243) believed that the practice of using lime in Roman squared-stone masonry was attested from the middle of the second century to the end of the first century B. This content downloaded from 193. Therefore. 12. on the one hand. even in the same period—the Severan age in this case—the red paint could be made using different binders. 1).194. such as the Temple of Portunus in the Forum Boarium (to be added to Lugli’s list). Cosma e Damiano. Adam (1994.. 80 [on the Aqua Claudia]. and the red lower and vertical surfaces of a given block would have already been dry when the block itself was put into position. In addition. so their color is inevitably different from the red paint I was able to produce. The white layer would have helped the next blocks slide into place and at the same time made the wall more cohesive.C. The white layer. and Lugli himself excluded the possibility that it acted as an adhesive. Moreover. on the kind of yellow ocher employed.g. which suggests the use of an organic binder such as milk and its by-products (e. which is not surprising considering the masons were building a brick wall with a concrete core and joints of mortar. left). and the red coat was not a colored stucco used ple of Castor and Pollux in the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. Consequently. together with the missing parts that can be reasonably reconstructed—were equivalent to ca. noticed that “mortar was sometimes used like lime to even the beds but not to cement the blocks together” (cf. In the red paint used in the podium. I also tested a red ocher produced by heating yellow ocher available in the environs of Rome. the red paint used on a few courses of bricks in the hall behind the Forma Urbis—more precisely. the only exceptions being the restoration of the Tem- [AJA 115 layer). from a block of Lapis Albanus in the “pier” closer to the arch. or on the use of a rubrica richer in iron oxides. an amount that could have been held in the palm of the hand. slightly different from the red visible on most of the blocks of the buildings discussed here (see fig. along the Via di San Bonaventura) confirmed. apparently there was not a fixed “recipe” for the production of red paint. 234 n. Blake 1959. the use of red ocher. my experiment is inconclusive as regards the identification of the red pigment. This might depend on the temperature for heating the yellow ocher. The resulting paint had a brownish color. Blake (1959. more or less the area of the square of the Templum Pacis itself.5 on Fri. inside the central niche toward the southeast portico—revealed the presence of burnt gypsum but also a higher use of lime. The resulting color was very similar to the red paint visible on the ancient blocks (fig. and in the Temple of Divus Hadrianus. casein). 1987. and three of water. is too thin to have actually bound the blocks together. 158).E.600 PIER LUIGI TUCCI though the absorption peaks mentioned above suggest that the actual quantity of red pigment was slightly less than that of plaster of Paris).000 m2. The white layer also appears in the Servian Wall (see Corazza et al.

The white layer was already noticed by Gori (1875.29 In the horizontal joints of the Severan repair to the Templum Pacis. Forcellino 1990. who claims that a thin layer of mortar was laid on the surfaces to help position a given block through the use of levers. Esposito 2001. 50 n. the presence of the iron dowels would have allowed the blocks to slide for just 1–2 cm. which were carved into the upper surface of the course below. 29 In the Flavian structure of the Colosseum. some of the blocks appear to have been lowered directly into recessed slots 1–2 cm deep. both the tuff and the travertine blocks occasionally present this thin layer of lime. the white layer typically appears as a very thin film. 28 Cf. and Gabucci (1999. there are no traces of lever holes for sliding them into place. Moreover. especially when laid on the upper surfaces of porous travertine blocks. 93). comm. This figure illustrates the colors of different mixtures in comparison with the samples from the Templum Pacis.27 It is likely that it was made by mixing slaked lime with a small amount of water. 27 The same test was made by L. obtaining something between lime putty and milk of lime. 51.26 Another fundamental difference is that the red layer was painted on the inferior surface and on one of the vertical surfaces of the blocks to be placed. who saw it only in the blocks of Tufo Lionato. see also Lancaster 2005. but its thickness is variable. Moreover. and uniform white stratum (see 26 Each block was clearly lowered with great precision. more or less preserved.28 In all the buildings with red-painted blocks discussed here. 124). as revealed by the microchemical test for the identification of carbonates on the sample from the Templum Pacis. The composition of the two substances is also quite different: the white layer consists of pure calcite (calcium carbonate). The numbers in parentheses indicate how many measures of each ingredient are used. This content downloaded from 193. 2009) on another sample from the Templum Pacis and gave the same result. it may appear as a thick. and the white layer provided just enough “wiggle room” to accomplish this.194. the white layer is always present.76. 12. Blake (1959. Rattazzi 2007. this is the exact opposite of the white layer of lime. to fill the irregularities on the surfaces themselves. 64–5. 107).5 on Fri.2011] RED-PAINTED STONES IN ROMAN ARCHITECTURE 601 Fig. Re-creation of the red paint with Rosso di Pozzuoli (left ) and red ocher (right ). compact (yet friable). Lombardi (pers. 6 Feb 2015 08:32:16 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Bellini 2001. and.

and eventually the surfaces were washed with clean water so they would not be affected by the chemical action of the nitron. 205) pointed out that this method was still in use in their days. in fact.”36 This provision means that red ocher was used only in this intermediate step and that it would eventually have been removed by the rest of the process. which were checked with a rule covered with red pigment as they were being dressed.39 The verification of the dressing of the blocks with red paint is recorded at Mytilene on the island of Lesbos. used a faulty nomenclature for the red pigment. lines 132–36.”35 The contract stresses that afterward. 39. roman techniques A Greek building technique involving the use of red ocher is attested by an inscription dating to the second century B.40 The surfaces. 500. Thus. Durrbach 1929. 39 Cf. and on Delos.76. and the miltos test was used to dress and check these bands around the joint faces. 1:243) warned that “for what concerns travertine it should be noted that often what seems to be a limewash between the blocks is just a calcareous secretion due to water infiltration. the upper surface was not treated at all until all 13 stones were in position. there is some evidence that large circular marble slabs were used in the construction of the Older Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens to check the smoothness of the column drums. he had to “test the edge 30 Lugli (1957.34 Since the blocks were to be positioned along a row of blocks already in place. See Martin (1965. Dworakowska 1979. since traces of a red coating left by the miltos test could be occasionally noticed on blocks and column drums (e. see IG 12 2 10. at Didyma. 32. lines 142–45.” Bundgaard. 34. 50–1. 35 IG 7 3073. 40. esp. 2e). Turner 1994. the stonemasons began by dressing the face on which any given block was to rest. 42 Korres 1995. and similar painted slabs were used to check the contact faces of ordinary blocks in squared-stone masonry. usually the vertical faces had the central area worked back more or less roughly. Haussoullier 1919.” To establish whether the white layer consisted of artificial lime or of carbonate salt crusts is just a secondary issue. was used for this test.602 PIER LUIGI TUCCI fig.”32 The test consisted of checking the contact surfaces of the blocks with wooden or stone rules thinly coated with red paint. 31. its function cannot be comparable with that of the red layer. Durrbach 1911. sharp chisel. . which would have removed the mixture of oil and red pigment. cf.g. 38 Martin remarked that in Greek buildings.194. 212. 507. 32 Bundgaard 1946. line 25. 37 IG 7 3073. inscription no. McCabe and Plunkett 1985. 211–25. [AJA 115 of all the thirteen placed floor blocks with red ocher against a long rule of not less than 20 feet . For Lesbos. the stonemasons would then cut down the higher areas marked by the red paint and would repeat the process until they had a perfectly dressed surface. 34 While in Roman squared-stone masonry. This technique was employed in the recent restoration of the This content downloaded from 193. see also 77. the already dressed surfaces were washed with nitron (soda or sodium carbonate). the side faces of the latter had to be reworked.E. Also. 6 Feb 2015 08:32:16 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . 231) for the lines marked with red ocher and eventually engraved. does not mean “minium” but “red ocher.33 At Lebadeia. the stonemason “shall grind the side faces of the placed floor blocks against which he is to lay (the new ones) with true rubbing stone. the stonemason first marked off a line in the presence of the architect and then removed the surplus stones. cf. 321. based on a mistranslation of the Greek term “μίλτος.C. and only a narrow band around the sides and top of each face made contact with the next block. 12 x 16 cm. A wooden rule at least 6 m long. and then they prepared the vertical sides. the block surfaces were not always cleaned. no. 31. which were apparently blocks of considerable dimensions that acted as rubbing stones and actually made the ground surfaces straight. who published a long study on the architectural aspects of this inscription. This treatment of the vertical joint faces..42 with a cross-section of ca. finally. and he shall not be permitted to cramp any stone until he satisfies the building commission that he has used approved red ocher from Sinope and pure oil. 31 IG 7 3073.5 on Fri. Martin 1965. Bundgaard 1946.41 In addition. Lattermann 1914. . were called “σύμμιλτα” in contracts from Lebadeia and Delos. 54. Durrbach 1929. no. in both cases. in Greek buildings. as prescribed at Lebadeia. . from the city of Lebadeia. 185–86 40 For Lesbos. These observations disprove Lugli’s assumption that the function of the red layer was comparable with that of the white layer. no. at Messa on Lesbos). 14. see Koldewey 1890. 108–9. and make the red ocher test with a smooth. Wiegand 1958. 305. 41 Cf. 43–8. . Heisserer 1988. both the horizontal and vertical faces were dressed to a plane. called anathyrosis. 33 Fabricius (1881. 36 IG 7 3073. 67) and Choisy (1884.” which. figs. making the entire edge “true and sharp”.38 This contract is not the only Greek document that mentions the use of red ocher during the construction process.”37 Finally. was prescribed also by the Lebadeian contract. 102.31 This building contract refers to the dressing of 13 blocks on the floor along the south side of the cella of the local temple of Zeus and describes in detail how the fine jointing between the stones was achieved by means of what has been wrongly called a “minium test. lines 154–59. The contract specified that the stonemason “shall use pure oil for all rules and red ocher from Sinope . no. some “rules of stones” were employed.30 dressing the surfaces of the blocks: greek vs.

75). the red paint in the holes for the iron dowels. Orlandi 1966. the red paint on Roman building stones has not been discussed adequately or interpreted by architectural historians. this procedure was not applied in Rome. Pennini (2005) supports Lugli’s (1957.15).E. Several clues (the use of quick-setting paint. the Roman red surfaces have nothing to do with the Greek red surfaces. Leon Battista Alberti noticed the presence of a thin stratum of paint made of red ocher.. 296. 128) mentions the use of chalky earth or red ocher (terra cretosa vel rubricosa) for wall painting. its presence has been considered exceptional. Indeed. Rykwert et al. when the red layer had just made its first appearance on the travertine blocks of the Colosseum. as noted by Lugli” (Pennini 2005. 1:242) view without questioning it. the joints are painted in red ocher.” Thus. mainly because I have seen this on one. 13). as they are most thoroughly absorbed by plaster” (HN 35. the contact surfaces were not perfectly smooth. after the test. see Artioli (1938.45.7. which refer primarily to wall painting. the function of the red-painted surfaces in ancient rome Apart from Lugli’s suggestions.2011] RED-PAINTED STONES IN ROMAN ARCHITECTURE The red surfaces visible in Rome rule out the possibility of a so-called rubrica test. Indeed. who reports that a red layer would be visible “between the blocks of travertine of a pillar in the northern passage.13) and that “among the remaining kinds of red ocher the most useful for builders are the Egyptian and the African varieties. see Pennini (2005. Last but not least. thus implying that he has plasterers (tectores) in mind46—Greek authors indicate that red pigment was used by carpenters only: the term “τεκτονες. (1988. the single coat of paint) seem to attest that the Roman red blocks were positioned when the paint was already dry. [and it] must also have been used for static purposes. but only “between the blocks of the highest row. he does so in relation to plaster.194. 298). however. the contact faces were eventually polished and cleaned so that no red traces would be visible. 6 Feb 2015 08:32:16 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .5 on Fri. have suggested that it was being used as a mortar. who made a chemical analysis of the red paint and found that it contains hematite crystals (“it could be a red ocher”). and never to the joints of squared-stone masonry. The Roman practice of painting the surfaces of blocks red is not attested archaeologically outside Rome. 31). To me this seems unlikely. 44 De re aedificatoria 3. the last author who discusses building techniques at length is Pliny the Elder. Nor is it mentioned by literary sources. who translate the passage as “the joints are painted in red clay.76.11.44 He did not offer an alternate explanation. who died in 79 C. 2). I do not believe the Roman blocks were employed in a rubrica test to verify their match with the blocks already in place. where the painted surfaces of the blocks still preserve the red layer.” This indication is not clear enough but may correspond to the pier located along the longitudinal axis that I describe above. I would exclude the possibility that a Roman innovation may have been to use the blocks for the same purpose as the wooden/stone rules or the large circular slabs used in ancient Greece. in other words. The silence of ancient sources may support the hypothesis that this practice was not a widespread working method in Pliny’s day but became typical of second-century contractors. together with a white layer. 10. although Pliny mentions builders in general (fabri ).” refers to wood posed of calcite was noticed. only in a few cases to the actual act of building. 58. 7.45 While all Roman writers associate the use of red ocher with plaster— in fact. when very big stones are used in ancient buildings.10.2) simply remarks that yellow ocher was suitable for stucco works.1. 156. Vitruvius (De arch. it would have enabled “the blocks to slide. A white layer com- 603 (presumably in Rome). too. 214–17. As for its purpose. the surfaces in Rome bearing the red paint are not smooth and polished (fig. To sum up. 7. as examination with a raking light has confirmed (see fig. Orig. the red paint was removed from the blocks already placed and left on the blocks yet to be placed. and it is unlikely that. which is not the ideal condition for a successful test. The other components of the red paint are not discussed. see Pennini (2005.” In fact. bottom). who recalls the thousands of blocks or fragments excavated in his days and “il color d’ocra rossa che ne tingeva le facce”. the red paint is not visible on both contact faces. Alberti observed that neither the white layer nor the red paint could have bound the blocks together: Those who have noticed that. In fact. 306 n. in the squared-stone masonry of some ancient buildings Parthenon by the team of the Acropolis Restoration Project directed by Korres. 296). Cf. 43 On the Colosseum. 1998. This content downloaded from 193.43 Around the middle of the 15th century. Pliny the Elder recalls that rubricae were used “for coloring wood” (HN 35. see also Angeletti 1991. 1984. Were they responsible for applying the red paint? Or was it the task of the stonemasons who actually dressed and laid the blocks in place? 46 See Blanc 1983. On the Temple of Divus Hadrianus. Alberti uses the Latin word rubrica (red ocher). On the Mausoleum of Hadrian.” which is used by some Greek authors in relation with “μίλτος. In Greece. That the irregularities and cavities of those surfaces are red proves that the surfaces themselves were actually painted with a brush. Cato the Elder (Agr. 45 Giving the blocks a red ocher–based coating seems to be a practice very close to the skills of painters and plasterers. and not both sides of the joint.

figs.194. In Roman architecture.”47 Pedanius Dioscorides (De materia medica 5. epigram by Philippus of Thessalonica (6.103) describes the tools of the carpenter Leontichus and particularly his “straight-running saw that follows the drops of red ocher” and his “taut ocher-stained line just touched by the extreme edge of the rule. and other blocks with similar inscriptions were recently found at Reims.604 PIER LUIGI TUCCI [AJA 115 Fig. Cosma e Damiano).E. 3. too (Rolland 1946. Cosma e Damiano). on two side faces of a travertine block belonging to the original foundation of a pier in the north portico.5 on Fri. lower irregular surface of a Severan travertine block above the recess for the Corinthian capital of a flat pilaster belonging to the Templum Pacis’ southeast portico (atrium of the monastery of SS. Left. too.49 Red-painted inscriptions also appeared on a group of limestone blocks found in 1971 in the area of the Forum of Lutetia (Paris). 14.11.48 Considering that literary or epigraphic sources are absolutely silent as to the function of the red-painted surfaces of Roman blocks—and that the red paint was applied neither to make the blocks slide nor to make their surfaces perfectly smooth—I conclude that it was used to mark the blocks that were approved for placement in the building.2. fig. This content downloaded from 193. Another similar inscription was recently noticed at the nearby Crypta Balbi.205. 4. Other painted inscriptions from Rome are recorded in Bruzza 1870. A typical example comes from an inscription painted on the side surface of a travertine block discovered 47 See also Philippus of Thessalonica 6. those red-painted inscriptions are not comparable with the red surfaces of the blocks of the buildings considered here.5. refers to carpenters. conservateur du patrimoine at the Département de l’Histoire de l’Architecture et de l’Archéologie de Paris. De simplicium medicamentorum temperamentis ac facultatibus 9). figs. 12:170 (respectively). 8. 54.9–3. 48 in 1996. On the blocks found at Reims. even though it was not analyzed). and Galen (De methodo medendi 1. workers. Kühn 1821–1833. It can be no coincidence that such a “red code” is attested in Roman architecture. for showing me the blocks found in Paris. the practice of using red paint is also documented on brickwork. inserted in the Domitianic floor south of the Temple of Via delle Botteghe Oscure. right. vertical contact surface of a block of Lapis Albanus. 13. attesting to the widespread use of red paint. see Brunet-Gaston 2008. 13. showing traces of the chisel. 49 Manacorda and Zanini 1997. 6 Feb 2015 08:32:16 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . see Cante 2004. at the corner of the rear walls of the porticoes of the Templum Pacis (second landing of the monastery of SS.96) mentions a red ocher from Egypt and Carthage that was used by carpenters. 9. Its rough surface is characterized by cursive letters or numbers painted with a red paint (the pigment has been identified with minium. fig. 10:5. The dates writ- 50 I thank Rose-Marie Mousseaux. precisely in the same period as on ashlar masonry. Some of the blocks still visible in the area of the quarry of Tor Blanc at Glanum (Saint-Rémyde-Provence) bear red-painted inscriptions. 61. 1958). A first-century C.76. These red marks were possibly painted to indicate the position of the block in the actual floor.50 Be that as it may. The painted inscriptions found in France have been interpreted either as an indication of the destination of the blocks or as an indication of their provenance. 253.

Volpe assumes that the red pigment is minium. and elsewhere at SS. but no chemical analyses have been mentioned to support this identification. the red paint is made of red ocher and gypsum. which was displayed precisely in the Templum Pacis. 6 Feb 2015 08:32:16 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . in fact. Cosma e Damiano) (only the left side is painted red). the technique of associating the bipedalis courses with the putlog holes and the springing of arches seems to be an experimental one under Vespasian.76. when actual bonding courses of bipedales make their appearance..5 on Fri. recess for the Corinthian capital of a flat pilaster of the southeast portico of the Templum Pacis (atrium of the monastery of SS. bottom right.. and very likely it has not even been made. Cosma e Damiano (fig. According to Lugli. visible at the entrance to the monastery of SS. which is still intact next to the door of the sacristy. Indeed. Lugli called these courses “red lines.” but in fact we are dealing with actual stripes (the red paint also affects the joints of mortar above and below the bricks). 42). On the “mattoni rubricati con minio” of the Basilica of Maxentius. even though it would seem that the latter was an actual layer. which would extend the use of red stripes to the early fourth century C. After the fire of 192 C. more frequently. 23 (it is not clear whether the red pigment has been analyzed). 52 Lugli 1957. Fig. bottom left.g. on the courses of bricks and broken bipedales that occur at more or less regular intervals—sometimes coinciding with putlog holes for scaffolding—in the brick-faced walls of many imperial buildings. but it was fully established by the time of Domitian (Lancaster 2005. to insert the marble slabs with the new capitals. Cosma e Damiano (e. I thank one of the anonymous reviewers for the AJA and especially Evelyne Bukowiecki for information on the Domus Augustana. This use of colored paint can also help explain the red areas in the surviving recesses for the Corinthian capitals of the pilasters in the rear wall of the Templum Pacis’ southeast portico. the recesses were slightly reworked. the original Vespasianic wall was preserved up to the level of the abacus of the capitals. this procedure began with Commodus’ buildings and came to an end in the third century C. Top. 1:573. This content downloaded from 193.. where red stripes mark a series of horizontal levels and attest that the use of red paint—for both bricks and stones.E.. on another Severan brick wall toward the top of the rear wall of the southeast portico and at the lower level of the monastery on both sides of the Severan niche mentioned above). as in the Colosseum—goes back to the Vespasianic age. on the bipedalis courses of the Severan wall of the Forma Urbis. left side of the recess (orthogonal to the back surface and painted red). together with the vertical area of the back surface next to it.194. 53 I would also mention the presence of red paint on the Severan Forma Urbis. where she noticed that the red stripes are missing in the Domitianic phase.51 Also related to the building process are the red stripes painted on bipedalis courses or. 135)—even though these materials were used for completely different purposes. The left side of the recess.2011] RED-PAINTED STONES IN ROMAN ARCHITECTURE 605 ten with red paint on the walls of a gallery beneath the Baths of Trajan obviously refer to the progress of the construction. but it has been recently noticed in the first Flavian phase of the inferior peristyle of the Domus Augustana on the Palatine. 14). Its right-hand side is oblique 51 Volpe 2002. right side of the recess (not orthogonal). but. See also the case of Hadrian’s Villa (Attoui 2008. which might have marked either an assigned amount of work or the end of a day’s work. The red coat surviving on a recently discovered fragment depicting the road between the Palatine and the Circus Maximus has been identified as “mordente” or “bolo armeno” (Ciancio Rossetto 2006. these red stripes can be seen only in the Templum Pacis. see Amici 2008.52 As for the buildings examined in this article.E. 14. is orthogonal to the back surface and is painted red.E. 54–6). 383.53 This procedure attests that the red paint was familiar in Roman construction sites. 69 n. where it must have been used to give instructions to stonemasons and contractors. no chemical analysis has been published so far.

correspond to the structure of the wooden ceiling made under Pope Urban VIII and apparently were painted by the 17thcentury carpenters. Its free end is smooth but not red (see fig. either because this facilitated the adhesion of the mortar used in the marble veneer or because they would not be visible from below. This content downloaded from 193. 45–6. Cosma e Damiano (fig. but the rest of the surface (which would have been free inside the hall toward the Via 54 Again.76.202.194. right). carpenters. cf. 5. 6 Feb 2015 08:32:16 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . the two surfaces can be painted red. Alberti (De re aedificatoria 10. 3. and painters to trace guidelines is attested in the following centuries as well. judging from the actual noncontact surfaces (fig.201. (I am currently working on the publication of these remains). 4. 14. This block constitutes the toothing between the side wall of the hall toward the Via Sacra and the rear wall of the southwest portico of the Templum Pacis. the two iron dowels are inserted.” Red paint was still used by masons in the mid 15th century when. Choisy 1884. the slab with the Corinthian capital must have been inserted from above. whereas its long vertical side.12. see Orlandi 1966. for instance. the block is laid in place. and continue along the new side walls of the basilica. 515). stonemasons. 55 The carpenters’ use of red ocher to square timber is described in a late 17th-century edition of Mattioli’s commentary on Dioscorides’ De materia medica (Mattioli et al. visible inside a modern passage and originally matching a block of Lapis Albanus (the opposite end of which is still in situ) has a surface that is smooth and red for a length of at least 89 cm.55 The following is my reconstruction of the working method of the Roman stonemasons who painted the blocks of the buildings discussed here.606 PIER LUIGI TUCCI [AJA 115 (thus.56 Particularly interesting is a block of travertine visible just over the floor of the first landing of the modern staircase of the monastery of SS. as for the red stripes. Again. 1988.17) suggested the use of rubrica to mark the dimensions of a pier or the intrados of an arch on a preexisting wall that needed to be reinforced. bottom). just below the gabled facades of the hall toward the Via Sacra. 16). Dressing. painting. Cosma e Damiano. the process begins with a rough block from the quarry. where two horizontal red lines are painted on the fourth-century brickwork.28. the blocks of travertine and Lapis Albanus were delivered to the construction site in a rough state. The two long side faces instead remained undressed. 181– 82. 67. Only at that point would the opposite vertical end be dressed. 6. These lines. 2. once approved.54 The use of red ocher by builders. see also Fabricius 1881. while the actual top surface would be carefully made level when the row of blocks was completed. Rykwert et al. The only surviving side of the next recess is orthogonal to the back surface and painted red. It is reasonable to assume that the stonemasons first dressed with great care what would become the lower surface of the block and one of the vertical ends. The other four surfaces were left rough until the block was set. Maria in Aracoeli on the Capitoline Hill. 56 Alberti De re aedificatoria 6. 10. 16. A further vertical area 8 cm wide is still partially red. 15). only two orthogonal surfaces are dressed and checked.5 on Fri. for example. At the Templum Pacis. 1680. in this last case. traced through cords stained with red ocher on the wall. 990–91. the red paint could have meant “these surfaces are orthogonal. we are dealing with a color code for those at work on the construction site. see also Brilliant 1967. 607. corresponding precisely to the width of the partially missing block originally laid against it. 205.” or simply “chalk”. the block is turned upside down and the hole for the lewis irons is carved. 359) translate rubrica as “red chalk. and placing a red-painted block at the Templum Pacis: 1. An interesting example is visible again in the basilica of SS. when the two surfaces are completely red. Rykwert et al. before the blocks of travertine of the upper course were put in place) and not painted at all (see fig. 15. (1988. Fig. Mattioli 1554. since only these two surfaces were destined to match the blocks already placed. I would also mention the use of black lines to mark the intrados of the vaults to be constructed—another hitherto unknown procedure—in the Roman houses beneath S.

however.2011] RED-PAINTED STONES IN ROMAN ARCHITECTURE 607 Fig. this. After the architect’s approval. all belonging to travertine blocks that were not contact faces (and indeed. Thus. which was to come in contact with the lower row of blocks. is smooth and red for at least 89 cm (3 Roman feet). I have noticed only four smooth surfaces.57 More generally. therefore. Another area 8 cm wide (indicated by the arrow) is partially red (left ). These stonemasons also would have smeared the thin layer of lime on the vertical surface of the last placed block and on the upper surfaces of the blocks already in place. these surfaces could be painted red (cf. and the block would be lifted and laid into place. but the rest of the surface (which would have been inside the hall toward the Via Sacra) is rough and not painted. At this point.194. its long vertical surface. Sacra) is rough and bears no traces of red paint. This content downloaded from 193. its lower surface not laid directly on the ground because of the iron dowels. Indeed.5 on Fri. 57 At the Templum Pacis. which were apparently not sealed with lead) and the block turned upside down. the hole for the lewis irons could be carved at the center of the top surface.76. which would join an already placed block. is often less smooth than the horizontal one. Its end (right ) is smooth but not red. it would have been impossible to place that block differently. 16. while the stonemasons working on an independent scaffolding or on the actual wall would have already made level the top surface of the upper course of blocks and carved the holes corresponding to the iron dowels just fixed in the red-painted block. the iron dowels would have been inserted into their respective holes (there are two for each block at the Templum Pacis. Eventually. the same concern seems to have inspired the builders of the other monuments. they did not receive a coat in red pigment). the same travertine block was shaped and dressed precisely to fit the next one. 15). A check with rule and square would have verified that the two contact faces were planar (not necessarily even) and orthogonal. which were destined to match the red surfaces of the arriving block. originally matching a block of Lapis Albanus (one of the clamp holes is visible). corresponding precisely to the width of the missing block. However. was well dressed so that it would sit properly and make the structure stable. does not pose a problem since it played no role concerning the distribution of the load. the possibility that the red paint indicated the surfaces destined to match the already positioned block is unlikely. I would conclude that the smooth contact surfaces here were painted red not (or not only) to indicate their position in the structure but to certify that they had been approved by the contractor and/or the architect (possibly in conjunction with a written record and estimate). the red vertical surface (the only one visible) might have indicated at a distance that a given block had been approved and was ready. Eventually. This block alone confirms that the red paint highlighted the smooth contact surfaces. fig. The vertical contact face. Severan block of travertine at the junction between the southwest portico of the Templum Pacis and the hall toward the Via Sacra (first landing of the monastery’s main staircase). 6 Feb 2015 08:32:16 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . It was essential to make sure that the underface of the block. Once a new block was positioned.

as in the case of the block at the Temple of Via delle Botteghe Oscure. it is also possible to reconstruct the sequence of how the blocks were placed during the course of the construction process.76. 13. Suetonius (Calig. see Coarelli 2009. It teaches us that imperial Roman construction involved extensive use of modest materials. Of course. 145–73. and with Antoninus Pius.E. whose commissions in the city of Rome were proudly carved on a famous funerary relief showing five monuments.58 Even though these operations were routine. 6. 59 I had also considered the possible symbolic significance of the red paint. 30. 30–2).4). might seem a waste of time. like the use of coins in the foundations.. this scenario implies that the red paint was applied to the arriving blocks. 32. since the joints of the blocks themselves would not be visible again.3. Row after row. 18 m long). 16) and on the upper landing of the modern staircase (see fig. and the same direction was followed in the construction of the surviving stretches of the rear wall of the southwest portico and the side wall of the hall toward the Via Sacra.8. I posit that the same idea governed marking the surfaces of blocks that had been approved for placement. 61 A similar case. the camp of the Second Parthian Legion built at the beginning of the third century C. apparently. of course. in the Temples of Divus Hadrianus and Divus Antoninus and Diva Faustina. since the lower surface could not be painted red a posteriori when the block was in situ.59 In conclusion.50). 81. Haack 2005). at the Mausoleum of Hadrian.. the blocks were placed starting from the hall of the Marble Plan toward the corner of the southeast and southwest porticoes. although they were 58 Since the red paint was spread exclusively on the lower (horizontal) surface and on one (vertical) end of a block (see fig. 84. might have been a sort of good omen.E. The counter argument to this is. 429.36. but apparently the Roman contractors found it worthwhile nonetheless. too. Herklotz 2000. for what concerns the Flavian age. E. The red paint between the joints. It is worth noting that the fortification walls of the Castra Albana. right). which was deposited in the Mausoleum of Hadrian (Dio Cass. whose idiosyncratic technique might have involved blocks of Lapis Albanus and red paint. then it had to be painted completely. Ner. Painting a whole surface and not simply a few signs. derive from some of the most im- portant building projects of the second century C. Pliny the Elder (HN 33. the seven examples discussed here all come from the city of Rome and. were kept in an urn of purple stone (very likely red porphyry). Fam. and that Greek techniques had not disappeared.61 The practice of using red ocher in Roman stone masonry provides many clues about the working methods of Roman stonemasons.115) mentions the description of Odysseus’ ships in the Iliad (2. 16).. even though a short stretch would have sufficed. pour molten lead into the cavities corresponding to the dowels of the block itself (by means of channels cut from the holes out to the facings). this occurs only in the joints between orthogonal walls. which were laid without metal clamps and without white or red layers. 60 See Lugli 1919. It may be argued that a busy contractor would not have wasted time painting surfaces red for symbolic reasons. there would seem to be legal restrictions that regulated the use of this material. Plin. Dom. But note that the bipedalis courses of the wall of the Forma Urbis were painted red for their entire length (each red stripe is ca.1. it might be assumed that some of these buildings were built or restored by two or even more generations of the same family of contractors for imperial buildings (redemptores operum Caesaris). 6 Feb 2015 08:32:16 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . 35.637): their prows were painted with red ocher to show that “rubrica in honore erat” (Augusti 1967. 49.3.194. 215–16.1. such as gypsum and red ocher. 19). If. This content downloaded from 193.3) considered purple a great privilege reserved for generals and emperors.16. Septimius Severus’ ashes. indicating that the practice of using red-painted blocks was likely confined to Rome.g.or early third-century construction in the city. 9. Apparently.g. On the relief.3. destined exclusively to gods and emperors (Ambrogi 1995. in the same way the cult statue of Jupiter in the Capitoline Temple was painted (Cic. the contractor responsible for the buildings with red-painted blocks might not have marked his own material with that distinctive paint with the intention of indicating his ownership. At the Templum Pacis. the structure was not “linear”—e. and a triumphal arch.38. This may suggest that the technique is characteristic of second.608 PIER LUIGI TUCCI [AJA 115 the final operations would have been to pull out the lewis irons. 55. that the very act of painting the blocks is in itself a time-consuming process. including an imperial mausoleum. are made of blocks of Lapis Albanus (used for the very last time there).111–12. with the exception of the Colosseum. if a whole course of bipedales was under consideration. Katsaros 2008). 17. notably in the block mentioned above (see fig.2. including the Colosseum. on the site of the modern center of Albano. 25. 4.60 Because the use of red-painted blocks was so characteristic of a particular place and period as well as of particular patrons (the emperors) and materials (travertine and Lapis Albanus). Nero’s ashes were deposited inside a sarcophagus (solium) of porphyry (Suet. Ner. and set the iron clamps with lead over the joint (although it is likely that the iron clamps were all set only when the top surface of a whole course of blocks was made level). HN 33. however. It is thus reasonable to assume that the vertical surface was painted at the same time as the lower one. is that of the Haterii. in the Severan restoration of the Templum Pacis.5 on Fri. The use of red porphyry became extensive precisely from Trajan onward. at least two temples dedicated to deified emperors. It is worth recalling the custom of painting the face of the triumphing general with red paint. 77. and it has been suggested that Hadrian was buried in a huge sarcophagus of the same marble (D’Onofrio 1971.15.1. Iul. or in the podium next to the Arch of Titus—the vertical painted surfaces were usually the long ones. the preparation—laying and drying the red paint—would have taken precious time.4.

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