Gods in Colour

I’ve always heard that the ancient Greeks and Romans painted their statues, and that the pristine marble pieces that fill our museums were never intended to be pristine or white.  I never quite could picture antique sculpture in color.  This year, the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum has an ongoing exhibition showing just  how statues from antiquity might have appeared to the original viewers.

The exhibit is integrated into the existing collections.  So we can look at the original sculpture and at a reconstruction, painted as it may have been.  Using science I can’t begin to understand, tiny traces of surviving pigment have been analyzed and compared to pigments known to have existed during the time periods.

Then the pieces have been reproduced in plaster with the best guess of colors.  For example, fragments of a marble frieze might have looked like this:

A goddess might have appeared in a bright dress like this:

To the modern eye, the colors take some getting used to.  They are a little garish–like carousel ponies, say. And I have to wonder whether the ancients really applied their colors in solid fashion.  Wouldn’t they have done some shading, at least?  Still, seeing ancient sculpture in full color is fascinating and thought provoking.  A link to the exhibit is at http://www.khm.at/en/exhibitions/current-exhibitions/gods-in-colour/.

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