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News: German Archaeological Institute / Aigeiros Lecture series
Pair of eyes, 5th century B.C. or later. Probably Greek. Bronze, marble, frit, quartz, and obsidian. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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by Archaeology Newsroom

Inlaid eyes in Roman stone sculptures

Aigeiros lecture by Verena Hoft

The presence of inlaid eyes is noticed by the modern spectator through the empty eye holes. But in Roman Imperial times the inlay was made of marble, glass or other material and gave a certain expression to the sculpture.

“Inlaid Eyes. A Contribution to Polychromy in Roman Stone Sculpture” is the subject of the next Aigeiros Lecture. The speaker will be Verena Hoft from the University of Tübingen. Stylianos Katakis (University of Athens) will be commenting and discussing afterwards. 

As explained in the abstract of Hoft’s papers, “inlaid eyes are a significant element of polychromy. Nevertheless, the technical basics of production, the semantics as well as possible applications were not discussed until now.

“To find out more about these questions and others like the intention and effect of the technique. I set up a database which includes about 300 Greek and Roman sculptures with eye inlays dated from Archaic times until Late Antiquity. From this large amount of sculptures I selected all the Roman examples and set the focus on the contrast between mythological sculptures and portraits.

“The latter are much less represented than gods with eyes made of another material. Especially Athena is an example where the technique is often used. This may indicate that the use of the technique served the purpose to evoke a supposed authenticity and ancientness. But why were so many statues of gods featured with inlaid eyes? Is it to give the sculpture a liveliness through the high polished surface and glance of the material? Did the ancient artist want to intend a character of a cult image by the use of this technique?

“And is it possible to find out more about the technique and chronological and regional spread of inlaid eyes. My observations pointed to four major eye hole shapes, which could give us hints on the scope for design or specific workshop traditions.”

The lecture will be held in German on Wednesday the 3rd of June at 6 pm at the lecture hall of the German Archaeolocial Institute (Fidiou 1, second floor).

The AIGEIROS lecture series at the German Archaeological Institute at Athens, offers a forum in particular for younger scholars, who wish to present their research – results, preliminary results and/or approaches – to and discuss them with a critical audience.