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Colloquium: Art or Science? Interconnections Between Painting Technology, Alchemy and the Chemical Arts During the Greek-Roman Period

Event Details:

  • Date:       Thursday 17 January 2019
  • Time:      Starts: 16:00
  • Venue:    The Cyprus Institute – Guy Ourisson Building, Seminar Room, 1st Floor, Athalassa Campus
  • Speaker: Prof Ioanna Kakoulli, Co-Director Molecular and Nano Archaeology Laboratory at UCLA
* The colloquium will be in English and the event is open to the public.


Art or ScienceThe ingenuity of the art of ancient Greek and Roman painting represents an amalgam of social, political, economic and philosophical milieus. Artistic and scientific pursuits were understood to have more fluid boundaries, though inseparable from the cultures which produced and used them. The resourcefulness, creativity and knowledge of materials properties of the Greek and Roman painters is not only celebrated by notable ancient scholars in their writings, but it is also manifested in numerous surviving painted monuments across the territories of the Greek and Roman empires.

Painters between the fourth century BC and the fourth century AD, employed complex chemical and physical processes to provide specific optical and mechanical qualities to their paintings. To create the pigments for painting, they used inorganic and organic materials in their natural form or processed to produce new compounds, hybrids and composites with the desired properties.

The talk presents the intrinsic optical, chemical and microstructural properties of coloring compounds in ancient painting and interrogates how these properties contributed to the paintings’ qualities, aesthetics and function and their technological association with ancient make-up and therapeutic substances, philosophy and early al(chemical) practices. It further integrates and contextualizes direct scientific knowledge from the analysis of material culture with seminal texts of ancient writers such as Dioscorides, Theophrastus, Vitruvius and Pliny the Elder describing the chemical arts of color, cosmetics and medicaments and with alchemical recipes on colored compounds from two third-century AD Greek papyri, which provide the earliest surviving direct evidence on ancient alchemical practices during Classical Antiquity.
The consolidation of scientific analyses of archaeological materials with textual evidence, significantly enhances our understanding of color technology, function and use in Classical painting and its relationship to other contemporary industries.

About the Speaker

Ioanna Kakoulli is a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) with a joint appointment in the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program, in which she served as the Lore and Gerald Cunard Chair from 2011 to 2017. She is also co-director of the Molecular and Nano Archaeology Laboratory and the Archaeomaterials Research Group, specializing in the analysis and interpretation of archaeological and indigenous material culture and ancient technology. As of recently, she has also been appointed as adjunct professor at the Archaeological Research Unit of the University of Cyprus. Dr. Kakoulli has graduate degrees (a Master’s and a Doctorate Degree) from two of the world’s leading institutions in technical art history and materials science, the Courtauld Institute of Art of the University of London and the University of Oxford respectively.

Her research intersects traditional and advanced scientific imaging and spectroscopic techniques and focuses on reverse engineering processing studying the structure–property relationships to understand ancient technology and trade in antiquity, as well as, environmental and diagenetic alterations and their effects on artifacts and monuments. Dr. Kakoulli’s research has been published as a monograph, research articles and book-chapters in peer-reviewed journals and volumes. She serves as reviewer of research proposals in US, South and Central American and European Agencies and she is the editor and/or associated editor in scientific journals. She is a resource person for ICCROM in Rome; a member of US State Department delegations on Science & Technology; a scientific consultant for UNESCO and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and an expert witness for the Department of Homeland Security on matters pertaining to looted antiquities. In 2017 she was the inaugural Visiting Faculty in Archaeological Materials Science at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).


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Additional Info

  • Date: Thursday 17 January 2019
  • Time: Starts: 16:00
  • Speaker: Prof Ioanna Kakoulli
  • Speaker Position: Co-Director Molecular and Nano Archaeology Laboratory at UCLA

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