Exhibition | Gods in Color: Polychromy in the Ancient World

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on November 3, 2017

From the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco:

Gods in Color: Polychromy in the Ancient World
Bunte Götter: Die Farbigkeit antiker Skulptur
Glyptothek, Munich, 2003
Liebieghaus Sculpture Collection, Frankfurt am Main, 2008
Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco, 28 October 2017 — 7 January 2018

Reconstruction (A1) of the so-called Chios kore from the Akropolis in Athens, 2012. Copy of the original: Athens, ca.500 BCE. Crystalline acrylic glass, with applied pigments in tempera. Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung, Polychromy Research Project, Frankfurt am Main, acquired in 2016 as gift from U. Koch-Brinkmann and V. Brinkmann (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco).

Gods in Color: Polychromy in the Ancient World will offer an astonishing look at Classical sculpture swathed in their original vibrant colors questioning the perception of an all-white ‘classical’ ideal. Ancient sculpture and architecture from Greece and Rome will be revealed as intended—garishly colorful, richly ornamented, and full of life—along with original sculpture from the Near East, Egypt, Greece, and Rome against the backdrop of the Legion of Honor’s neoclassical building.

To find out more about the exhibition, explore this digital offering from the Liebieghaus in Frankfurt:

In the eighteenth century there was already considerable debate about the extent to which ancient architecture and sculptures were painted. Two centuries later technical investigations with ultraviolet light and glancing light are providing new evidence about ancient polychromy. Investigations carried out in Munich’s Glyptothek in the 1960s resulted in important findings. In the 1980s a group of researchers associated with the archaeologist Volkmar von Graeve studied the polychromy of ancient works of art with the help of modern technological aids. At the time, Vinzenz Brinkmann was a member of von Graeve’s team. Later, as head of the Liebieghaus’s Department of Antiquities, he brought the research subject to Frankfurt.

By now the original painting of hundreds of Greek and Roman artworks around the world has been studied. Thanks to the development of new investigative methods, scholars have meanwhile been able to provide an increasingly precise sense of the kind and extent of the painting. Over the course of centuries of damage owing to wars or weathering it was lost. Even though only scant traces of pigment and scoring have survived, they can provide valuable information. Our newly won understanding of the original polychromy leads in many cases to surprising discoveries!

From FAMSF Publications

Vinzenz Brinkmann, Renée Dreyfus, and Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann, eds., Gods in Color: Polychromy in the Ancient World (New York: Prestel, 2017), 192 pages, ISBN: 978 379135 7072, $40.

Although not widely known, antiquities were colored to dazzling and powerful effect. Polychromy—the painting of objects in a variety of hues—was a regular feature of the sculpture and architecture of most ancient cultures, especially in Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Aegean, Greece, and Rome. When such works began to be rediscovered in the eighteenth century after prolonged exposure to the elements, their colored surfaces were often so faded that later sculptors evoked classicism by leaving white marble and bronze surfaces unadorned.

Published on the occasion of an exhibition at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, Gods in Color: Polychromy in the Ancient World reintroduces the unexpected effect of these bright pigments. Through reconstructions of well-known sculptural works dating from Bronze Age Greece to Imperial Rome, readers can see firsthand how these objects would have appeared when they were first created. Complementing these reconstructions are many fine examples of original antiquities, many with surviving polychromy, from ancient Greece and Rome and beyond to Egypt and the Near East. Rounding out these offerings are breathtaking watercolors of Greece’s landscapes and monuments painted in 1805 and 1806 by English antiquarian Edward Dodwell and Italian artist Simone Pomardi.

This handsome volume features six essays alongside catalogue entries that describe the cultural contexts of the ancient works and the modern technological methods to uncover their original coloration. Vinzenz Brinkmann and Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann offer a history of the research and scholarship of polychromy since the eighteenth century; with Heinrich Piening, they also describe the pigments and techniques used. Renée Dreyfus discusses polychrome examples from Egypt and the Near East to demonstrate the strong influences these cultures left on the classical world. Oliver Primavesi recounts the dilemma of eighteenth-century German archaeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann, who at once celebrated the “pure” form of classical Greek and Roman sculpture but became increasingly aware that such works were originally colored and ornamented. John Camp describes the Greek tour of Dodwell and Pomardi as they depicted classical monuments, some of which still retained their original color.

An enduring scholarly record, Gods in Color reveals how ancient sculpture is incomplete without color. White or monochrome sculpture, an inherited notion of the classical ideal, would have been as strange to the ancients as these color reconstructions might seem to us today.

• Vinzenz Brinkmann is head of the department of antiquities at the Liebieghaus Sculpture Collection, Frankfurt and professor of classical archaeology at Goethe University, Frankfurt.
• Renée Dreyfus is curator in charge of ancient art and interpretation at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
• Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann is an archaeologist of classical antiquity based in Frankfurt. She is also assistant lecturer of classical archaeology at Georg August University in Göttingen.
• John Camp is the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Professor of Classics at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia and the director of the Agora excavations in Athens.
• Martin Chapman is curator in charge of European decorative arts and sculpture at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
• Louise Chu is associate curator of ancient art and interpretation at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
• Jens Daehner is associate curator of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
• Jonathan Elias is an Egyptologist and the director of the Akhmim Mummy Studies Consortium.
• Kenneth Lapatin is curator of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
• Rebecca Levitan is a PhD student in the history of art department at the University of California, Berkeley.
• Heinrich Piening heads the department of restoration and conservation, furniture and art objects of wood, at the Bavarian Department of State-Owned Palaces, Gardens, and Lakes in Germany.
• Oliver Primavesi is professor of Greek philology and philosophy at the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich. In 2007 he was a recipient of the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize, an important research award given by the German Research Foundation.
• Andrew Stewart is Nicholas C. Petris Professor of Greek Studies and professor of ancient Mediterranean art and archaeology at the University of California at Berkeley and curator of Mediterranean archaeology at UCB’s Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology.









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