Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Title The Reuse of Red Imperial Porphyry in the West from the End of the Ancient World
Author email
About author Licordari, Francesca — Postgraduate School for Archaeology, Superintendence of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape for the Area Metropolitana of Rome and for the Province of Rieti, via Cavalletti 2, 00186 Rome, Italy. ORCID: 0000-0003-3832-0555
In the section Byzantine and Eastern Christian Art DOI10.18688/aa2212-01-01
Year 2022 Volume 12 Pages 1626
Type of article RAR Index UDK 7.023:691.2; 7.023.1-032.5 Index BBK 85.125.7; 85.03(4)4

The red imperial porphyry is a rare, appreciated and expensive marble of the antiquity. The ideology of imperial power is symbolically expressed by the purple color. Therfore, the Porphyry, for the obvious chromatic similarity, is closely linked with the concept of royalty. This combination was transmitted not only to Byzantium, which is direct continuation of the Empire. It was also used in more recent times, whenever there was the need to emphasize the sacredness of power (in the Church, in the time of Carolingian Empire, of the Ottonian dynasty, of the Norman kings of Sicily, of the Swabian emperors or in the Ottoman Empire).

Throughout the Middle Ages the difficulty of working the porphyry, a very hard marble, meant that almost all reused pieces were fragmentary: this is the case of the basins, reused as sepulchres or inserted in the altars, of the columns reused in the churches, of elaboration of the floor decorations (rotae porphyreticae, Cosmatesque floors) and so on.

Only in the Renaissance the techniques of porphyry working were rediscovered. In Florence, the material was very popular among the artists of the court of the Medici. Soon after, the use of the material spread to the French court, and it also found great success among the families of the European nobility.

The last attempt to revive the use of the ancient porphyry was made between the middle of the 19th century and the middle of the 20th century, but it failed due to the impossibility of finding blocks of good quality and sufficient size. In addition, the new European porphyries were now available at more competitive prices and therefore there was no extensive use of this ancient material, which thus acquired more and more prestige.

Reference Licordari, Francesca. The Reuse of Red Imperial Porphyry in the West from the End of the Ancient World. Actual Problems of Theory and History of Art: Collection of articles. Vol. 12. Eds A. V. Zakharova, S. V. Maltseva, E. Iu. Staniukovich-Denisova. — St. Petersburg: St. Petersburg Univ. Press, 2022, pp. 16–26. ISSN 2312-2129.
Publication Article language english
  • 1. Ambrogi A. Labra di età romana in marmi bianchi e colorati. Roma, L’Erma di Bretschneider Publ., 2005. 629 p. (in Italian).
  • 2. Asutay-Effenberger N.; Effenberger A. Die Porphyrsarkophage der oströmischen Kaiser. Versuch einer Bestandserfassung, Zeitbestimmung und Zuordnung. Wiesbaden, Reichert Publ., 2006. 183 p. (in German).
  • 3. Bacile R.M. Romanesque and the Mediterranean: Patterns of Exchange across the Latin, Greek and Islamic Worlds c.1000–c.1250. Taylor & Francis Press Publ., 2015. 342 p.
  • 4. Deer J. The Dynastic Porphyry Tombs of the Norman Period in Sicily. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press Publ., 1959. 188 p.
  • 5. Del Bufalo D. Marmorari Magistri Romani. Roma, L’Erma di Bretschneider Publ., 2010. 270 p. (in Italian).
  • 6. Del Bufalo D. Porphyry2. Torino, Allemandi Publ., 2018. 336 p.
  • 7. Delbrück R. Antike Porphyrwerke. Berlin, De Gruyter Publ., 1932. 246 p. (in German).
  • 8. Di Cosmo A. P. Il porfido e le situazioni del potere normanno di fronte all’evento morte. Revista Onoba, vol. 6, 2018, pp. 223–241 (in Italian).
  • 9. D’Onofrio C. Castel S. Angelo. Roma, Staderini Publ., 1971. 305 p. (in Italian).
  • 10. D’Onofrio C. Castel S. Angelo e Borgo tra Roma e papato. Roma, Romana Società Editrice Publ., 1978. 350 p. (in Italian).
  • 11. D’Onofrio C. Visitiamo Roma mille anni fa. La città dei Mirabilia. Roma, Romana Società Editrice Publ., 1988. 215 p. (in Italian).
  • 12. Faedo L. La sepoltura di Ruggero, conte di Calabria. ΑΠΑΡΧΑΙ. Nuove ricerche e studi sulla Magna Grecia e la Sicilia antica in onore di Paolo Enrico Arias, 1982, vol. 2, pp. 691–706 (in Italian).
  • 13. Grisar H. Il sepolcro dell’imperatore Ottone II nel paradiso dell’antica basilica Vaticana. La civiltà cattolica, 1904, vol. 55, pp. 463–473 (in Italian).
  • 14. Kraus T.; Röder J.; Müller-Wiener W. Mons Claudianus – Mons Porphyrites, Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Institut (Kairo Abteilung), 1967, vol. 22, pp. 108–205 (in German).
  • 15. Lanciani R. Storia degli scavi di Roma e notizie intorno alle collezioni romane di antichità, vol. 1. Roma, Loescher Publ., 1902. 328 p. (in Italian).
  • 16. Lanciani R. Roma pagana e cristiana. Roma, Newton & Compton Publ., 2004. 333 p. (in Italian).
  • 17. Licordari F. L’utilizzo del porfido a Roma in età imperiale, Ph. D. Dissertation. Sapienza – Università di Roma, 2007. 256 p. (in Italian).
  • 18. Licordari F. Gruppo dei Tetrarchi. L’età dell’Angoscia da Commodo a Diocleziano 180–305 d.C. Roma, Mondo Mostre Publ., 2015, p. 383 n. I.76. (in Italian).
  • 19. Malgouyres Ph. Porphyre. La pierre pourpre des Ptolémées aux Bonaparte. Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux Publ., 2003. 208 p. (in French).
  • 20. Maxfield V.; Peacock D. The Roman Imperial Quarries Survey and Excavation at Mons Porphyrites 1994–1998. London, Egypt Exploration Society Publ., 2008. 450 p.
  • 21. Pensabene P. Il fenomeno del marmo nella Roma tardo-repubblicana e imperiale. Marmi antichi, vol. 2, Studi Miscellanei 31. Roma, L’Erma di Bretschneider Publ., 1998, pp. 333–390 (in Italian).
  • 22. Schott F.; Schott A. Itinerario, ouero Noua descrittione de’ viaggi principali d’Italia, nella quale si ha la piena notitia di tutte le cose più notabili, & degne d’essere vedute. Venezia, Bolzetta Publ. 1610. 630 p. (in Italian).
  • 23. Valentini R.; Zucchetti G. (eds.). Codice topografico della città di Roma, vol. 3. Roma, Istituto Storico Italiano per il Medioevo Publ., 1946. 499 p. (in Italian).
  • 24. Vasari G. Vasari On Technique: Being an Introduction to the Three Arts of Design, Architecture, Sculpture and Painting, Prefixed to the Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects. London, Dent Publ., 1907. 404 p.
  • 25. Verzone P. I due gruppi in porfido di S. Marco in Venezia ed il Philadelphion di Costantinopoli. Palladio, 1958, vol. 7, pp. 8–14 (in Italian).