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Pigments in Ancient Greek Painting & Medicine: Ecology, Materiality and the Alchemical Laboratory

April 29, 2023 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Royce Hall 306, 10745 Dickson Court
Los Angeles, California 90095
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Pigments in Ancient Greek Painting & Medicine:
Ecology, Materiality and the Alchemical Laboratory
lecture by
Ioanna Kakoulli
(Department of Materials Science and Engineering, UCLA)

Saturday, April 29, 2023
3:00 p.m.
306 Royce Hall
Reception to follow

Ancient Greek paintings between the fourth century BC and the third century AD are characterized by a splendor of colors, high artistic quality and rich pictorial effects such as shading, translucency and transparency, innovations that characterize and mark the art of Greek and later Roman painting traditions. Through the scientific analysis of surviving paintings—mainly wall paintings—this lecture explores the material ecology and intrinsic optical, chemical and microstructural properties of pigments in Late Classical and Hellenistic painting. It further interrogates how these properties contributed to the paintings’ qualities, aesthetics and function and their technological association with ancient makeup and therapeutic substances, philosophy and early al(chemical) practices. Data is presented in the context of seminal texts of ancient writers such as Dioscorides, Theophrastus, Vitruvius and Pliny the Elder describing the chemical arts of color, cosmetics and medicaments, and alchemical recipes from two third-century AD Greek papyri, which provide the earliest surviving direct evidence on ancient alchemical practices for the synthesis of colored compounds.

Ioanna Kakoulli, who will serve as Acting Director of the UCLA SNF Hellenic Center in 2023-2024, is a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering with a joint appointment in the Archaeology Interdepartmental Degree Program and the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program, in which she served as the inaugural ‘Lore and Gerald Cunard’ Program Term Chair from 2011 to 2017. Since 2018, Professor Kakoulli has also held the honorary adjunct professor title at the University of Cyprus. Dr. Kakoulli has a M.A. from the Courtauld Institute of Art of the University of London and a Ph.D. in Archaeological Science from the University of Oxford.

This event is free, but please RSVP in advance:https://forms.gle/arJpagpdcrTHEamm9

Parking Information
To be provided

The event is supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF).

Image caption: Detail of the Late Classical painted marble throne found in a Royal tomb in Vergina, Greece attributed to Eurydice Sirra, Macedonian queen and grandmother of Alexander the Great. The painted decoration of the throne shows the extensive use of a mercury-based pigment known as cinnabar; an important component in alchemy and perhaps the most celebrated pigment in Classical antiquity.


April 29, 2023
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm


Royce Hall 306
10745 Dickson Court
Los Angeles, California 90095


Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center