Thursday, 22 September 2011

'Pompeian Red' is/was really 'Pompeian Yellow'?

News of a set of interesting research carried out by La Sapienza discusses the effect of heat from the AD 79 Vesuvian eruption on pigments used in wall paintings.

Pompeii shows its true colours

'Pompeiian red' was created when gases from Vesuvius reacted with yellow paint, research reveals

When word spread to Britain of the sensational discovery of the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the 18th century, "Pompeiian red" became the favoured colour for smart dining-rooms – as it remains today.

But, it seems, it may be time to get out the paint chart. According to new research presented to Sapienza University in Rome last week, large swaths of the vivid "Pompeiian red" frescoes in the town actually began life as yellow – and were turned red by the gases emitted from Vesuvius as it erupted in AD 79.

Experts have long realised that some of the characteristic vivid reds of the frescoes in Pompeii and Herculaneum were originally yellow. But a new study, conducted by Italy's National Institute of Optics, suggests the sheer extent of the colour change.

Sergio Omarini, who presented the institute's findings, said: "At the moment, there are 246 walls perceived as red, and 57 as yellow. But based on the new research, the numbers must have been, respectively, 165 and 138.

Read more here.


John Muccigrosso said...

So where does one find the actual, original press release? Or, better still, the scholarly article?

Sera Baker said...

A conference listing found at
gives the presenters' and conferences information. Perhaps you will find something further by directly contacting Sergio Omarini. In many cases though it can take some time for the findings of a conference to be published, and some papers never are published. Please post back here if you find it!

Jo Berry said...

Regina Gee says:

“I'll be looking for the paper or article to come out of the conference as well, because as this Guardian piece stands (and the similar one in La Stampa), it doesn't really say much--in fact, it's more of a commentary on the history of taste in 18th century England. One thing I think is not clear (emphatically in fact)in this article is that while a red ocher wall and a yellow ocher wall that has "turned" due to heat may look quite similar, neither looks like cinnabar/minium; it's simply a different red and I cannot imagine any confusion on this point. Also, in the examples I know in which a cinnabar red wash over yellow ocher and yellow ocher that has turned red are actually in the same space, again, no confusion about which red is a “turned” red and which a cinnabar wash over yellow."

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