Archeology: Experts bring out the colors of the Lady of Baza | Culture


On July 20, 1971, the archaeologist Francisco Presedo made a discovery that would make him famous worldwide. On the hill of the Sanctuary (Baza, Granada), he unearthed a 2.60 meter side and 1.80 deep pit inside which a seated figure decorated with paintings and accompanied by a rich trousseau that included even weapons. Presedo had found the Lady of Baza, a spectacular Iberian sculpture carved by a Bastetan artist, a town he occupied between the 4th and 2nd centuries BC. C the peninsular southeast. But not all were joys that day. The archaeologist discovered with horror that the original colors disappeared with the passing of the hours. He even saw a brown stain next to the figure, which was proof of the pictorial wear caused by the water leaks. Quickly, he took a bottle of hairspray and smeared it to try to paralyze the process. Now the study The Lady of Baza. New contributions to his iconographic study through color and photography, signed by Teresa Chapa Brunet, María Belén Deamos, Alicia Rodero, Pedro Saura and Raquel Asiaín, from the Complutense and Seville universities, as well as from the National Archaeological Museum, with 21st century technology, it recovers the color palette, from blue to silver, that was used by its sculptor in the 4th century BC.

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Chapa Brunet, professor of Prehistory at the Complutense University of Madrid, highlights the “scant existing photographic documentation on the moment of the discovery of the Lady of Baza, since we only have what Presedo published in his studies and some images corresponding to his legacy . To his photos it is necessary to add those of other people who came to the site after learning about the Lady’s appearance, and which were disseminated in the press ”.

To recover the lost colors and details, the experts have relied “on digital photographs that allow a detailed observation of the image and the highlighting of certain aspects of it.” Pedro Saura, Professor of Photography at the Complutense University of Madrid, recalls that “the vast majority of elements or subjects that receive light reflect it in a diffuse and specular way [brillante] in different proportions. Specularly reflected light is what we perceive as brightness. Depending on the surface of such elements, the proportion of reflected light can reach more or less high values. Culturally, and given that our reference is our own vision, we are used to accepting these highlights without being absolutely aware of their presence ”. That is, our brain accepts the colors we receive as correct, but they include the reflection of light, something that can be avoided with photographic filters.

Lady of Baza pigments after removal of specular light.
Lady of Baza pigments after removal of specular light.PEDRO SAURA

For this reason, the Chapa Brunet team eliminated practically 100% of the specularly reflected light with adequate lighting. The first consequence was that the colors appeared with more intensity, in addition to the fact that “some motifs that had hardly been appreciated before” became visible. Thus, “the Dama de Baza could be seen as the image of a real, distinguished Iberian woman, representative of the highest and richest classes of society, but also someone who sought protection in small and disguised elements of her wardrobe”.

In fact, the report points out that in the “workshop where it was carved and painted, they wanted to faithfully reproduce its physical appearance and clothing, coloring its face and hands with the nuanced tones of the skin, and indicating on its cloak and tunics the colors and drawings that really carried ”. But the artist or artists not only highlighted “the richness of the clothing”, but also did the same with the armchair or throne it occupies, “in which it is played with light and dark colors that would respond to the way of painting or mixing the woods in the furniture”.

In 1990 and 2006, the University of Valencia and the Institute of Cultural Heritage of Spain applied the most innovative analytical techniques to identify the pigments used: Egyptian blue (copper and calcium silicate) for blue, cinnabar for red, earths for ocher, gypsum for white and bone charcoal for black. In addition, they detected the presence of very thin sheets of tin that covered the jewels, giving them a silvery appearance.

Francisco Presedo, with the Lady, after his discovery.
Francisco Presedo, with the Lady, after his discovery.Francisco Presedo

Now, the new study highlights that “the color is enlivened in the cheeks and becomes more intense in the lips, also painted with cinnabar. In the treatment of the face, the eyebrows, the edges of the eyelids and the eyelashes are outlined in black, the latter painted on fine incised lines, thus enhancing small eyes that would become expressive with the already lost paint of the iris and pupil, and correcting that air of looking without seeing that he now transmits ”.

Computer processing of digital images has also allowed researchers to “capture more clearly a motif that could not be identified in their day and which nobody noticed: a long string of beads that hangs from the back of the pendants, and that meanders up and down ”. It was painted in vermilion, the same as the border of the cloak and tunic, which suggests that it is “a knotted thread or cord” that has more “a symbolic value than a material one.” “We wonder if it could be a traditional formula for the protection of the person, reinforcing the apotropaic action [de talismán] of the Lady’s necklaces ”, concludes the professor.


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