Thursday, December 6, 2007

Gods in color

Archaeologist Vinzenz Brinkmann makes color reconstructions of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. His work is on display at Harvard University's Sackler Museum. From the Wall Street Journal:

The fashion for white antiquities dates back to the early 16th century, when the Renaissance began excavating works that had lain buried in the earth for centuries. Color traces still visible to the naked eye, deep in the folds of draped clothing, for instance, went unnoticed. Following what they believed to be the Greek and Roman example, Italian sculptors — notably Michelangelo — conceived their creations as uncolored. By the 18th century, practitioners of the then-new science of archaeology were aware that the ancients had used color. But Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the German prefect of antiquities at the Vatican, preferred white. His personal taste was enshrined by fiat as the "classical" standard. And so it remained, unchallenged except by the occasional eccentric until the late 20th century.
[Photograph: Trojan archer, original c. 490–480 BCE, color reconstruction by Vinzenz Brinkmann and Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann.]
Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity (Harvard University Art Museums)
Setting the Record Straight About Classical Statues' Hues (Wall Street Journal)
Gods in Color slideshow (WSJ)

comments: 4

Elaine Fine said...

These painted sculptures remind me of colorized movies. Maybe the sculptors in the ancient world did have access to the various pigments used here, but I imagine that they would have had the good taste not to use them. Vinzenz Brinkmann's fashion show doesn't seem to have much of a basis in reality. Who could have knit those clearly maching-made hose?

Michael Leddy said...

That archer looks too much like a harlequin to me, and I can't say I'm really convinced. But I'm willing to allow that the ancient world might've have been more garish than we usually imagine.

Thom said...

I don't think the reconstructions - like the one pictured are supposed to be exact replicas of ancient sculptures, are they?

I've read other places that ancient statuary was usually painted, and I've also read that buildings were sometimes brightly colored, too. Who knows? Maybe the Parthenon would look nice in bright purple with neon green columns...

Michael Leddy said...

Elaine and Thom, I found something from the NY Times that suggests a firm grounding in reality for the patterns in the photo. According to the Times, the archer is most likely Paris: Paris of Troy, in Color.

Purple and neon green, nice. And clear-plastic covers on the furniture!