The Art of Archaeology

From the Archives

By: Alessandro Pezzati

Originally Published in 2014

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Tunjung girl’s necklace of glass beads. Mahakam River, Kalimantan, Borneo, 1896–1897 (UPM object #P17). Drawing by unknown artist, ca. 1900. Gift of Alfred C. Harrison, Jr. UPM image #238716.

Tunjung girl’s necklace of glass beads. Mahakam River, Kalimantan, Borneo, 1896–1897 (UPM object #P17). Drawing by unknown artist, ca. 1900. Gift of Alfred C. Harrison, Jr. UPM image #238716.

The 1839 invention of photography was revolutionary, and instantly useful to archaeologists, changing the nature of documenting the past. Yet reproducing color in photographs remained a technological and costly challenge, and before color photography was developed by Kodak in the 1930s, the Penn Museum hired artists to draw materials for publication and exhibition. Year of Color: Art in the Archives renews our appreciation for color illustrations, lithographs, early black and white photography, and monochromatic images retouched in color.

The Museum Archives hosts this special exhibition that explores the concept and value of color imagery, the spectrum of techniques used, and the artistry of Museum illustrators to convey the textures, dimensions, and inscriptions of objects in the Museum’s collection. Among the more than 40 images on display are detailed watercolor paintings of Maya pottery and the Sumerian bull-headed lyre by M. Louise Baker, Museum Artist from 1908 to 1936. Also featured are a stunning portrait of Slow Bull by Edward S. Curtis, an illustrated translation of the famous Rosetta Stone published by the University of Pennsylvania’s Philomathean Society in 1856, and a color lithograph of Czar Nicholas II of Russia, a souvenir of his coronation in 1896.

Ceramic goblet with leopard motif excavated at Tepe Hissar, Iran. Watercolor by Ivan Gerasimoff, 1932. This painting stands out for its background of brilliant color. Most archaeological illustrators, in contrast, ignore the background. UPM image #169927.
Ceramic goblet with leopard motif excavated at Tepe Hissar, Iran. Watercolor by Ivan Gerasimoff, 1932. This painting stands out for its background of brilliant color. Most archaeological illustrators, in contrast, ignore the background. UPM image #169927.
Two Japanese women. Hand-colored albumen print, ca. 1870s–1880s. Photograph by Felice Beato or Reteniz von Stillfried. Furness, Harrison, Hiller Collection. Throughout the late 1800s, various methods were used to create color photographs from black-and-white images. A number of studios employed artists to paint them. This was especially popular in Japan. UPM image #152499.
Two Japanese women. Hand-colored albumen print, ca. 1870s–1880s. Photograph by Felice Beato or Reteniz von Stillfried. Furness, Harrison, Hiller Collection. Throughout the late 1800s, various methods were used to create color photographs from black-and-white images. A number of studios employed artists to paint them. This was especially popular in Japan. UPM image #152499.
Sumerian bull-headed lyre from Ur, Iraq ca. 2650–2550 BCE (UPM object #B17694). Watercolor by M. Louise Baker, ca. 1930. UPM image #171548.
Sumerian bull-headed lyre from Ur, Iraq ca. 2650–2550 BCE (UPM object #B17694). Watercolor by M. Louise Baker, ca. 1930. UPM image #171548.
Polychrome ceramic Maya vase from Quiché, Guatemala, ca. 600–900 CE (UPM object #12696). Watercolor by M. Louise Baker, 1910. UPM image #165048.
Polychrome ceramic Maya vase from Quiché, Guatemala, ca. 600–900 CE (UPM object #12696). Watercolor by M. Louise Baker, 1910. UPM image #165048.
Translation of the Rosetta Stone inscription by the Philomathean Society, University of Pennsylvania. Book with color lithographs. In 1856, three undergraduates from Penn’s literary society undertook to translate, illustrate, and publish the translation of all three portions of the famous Rosetta Stone (the Egyptian hieroglyphics had been deciphered by Jean- François Champollion in 1822). Every page is uniquely illustrated and handwritten. UPM image #238718.
Translation of the Rosetta Stone inscription by the Philomathean Society, University of Pennsylvania. Book with color lithographs. In 1856, three undergraduates from Penn’s literary society undertook to translate, illustrate, and publish the translation of all three portions of the famous Rosetta Stone (the Egyptian hieroglyphics had been deciphered by Jean- François Champollion in 1822). Every page is uniquely illustrated and handwritten. UPM image #238718.

Cite This Article

Pezzati, Alessandro. "The Art of Archaeology." Expedition Magazine 56, no. 3 (December, 2014): -. Accessed April 17, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/the-art-of-archaeology/


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