Wednesday May 27, 2015 Search
Weather | Athens
14o C
09o C
News
Business
Comment
Life
Sports
Community
Survival Guide
Greek Edition
Rediscovering archaic colors

By Alexander Clapp

When archaeologists began excavating the Acropolis in the 1880s, they were surprised to uncover large deposits of well-preserved statues from the pre-Classical period. Once unearthed, the sculptures showed signs of having been burnt prior to their collective mass burial. A connection was made to events recorded by ancient historians: After the Persians sacked Athens in 480 BC, the Athenians returned home and, in a sacred gesture to their gods, piled dirt over the charred remains of the temple and religious icons that had adorned the highest reaches of their city.

Ironically, the systematic burial of those statues – most of them of nude young men, koroi, or robed young women, korai – guaranteed their very survival, for it ensured that they would escape centuries of exposure to the elements and looting by invading barbarians and imperialists. Their discovery also provided more than just an intriguing corroboration of the historical narrative. It shed light on an essential but poorly understood feature of ancient Greek sculpture: the paint that covered it. The natural pigments used to decorate ancient statuary are particularly susceptible to the corrosive effects of light. Only a small amount of excavated material still preserves traces of these pigments. Most statues probably began to shed their paint during antiquity, with successive centuries eliminating all but the faintest hints of color.

This is precisely where the Archaic finds from the Acropolis differed: They were buried so shortly after commission and remained tucked under ground for so long that the ancient paint never fully disintegrated. The torching of Athens had another unintended but fortuitous effect: the Persians’ fire actually seared onto the marble statues the outlines of the robes that had been draped over them the day Athens was sacked.

The “Archaic Colors” exhibition at the Acropolis Museum, which runs to December 31, aims to recreate the visual experience of seeing these ancient Acropolis statues exactly as they appeared in antiquity – fully colored, bedecked with jewelry and inlaid with eyes of precious stone. The display integrates computer simulations and a few attempts at experimental archaeology. Large TV screens filter through proposed reconstructions of Archaic art, while small squares of painted Parian marble scattered throughout the exhibit give an idea of what fresh paint would have looked like on recently quarried marble. “Archaic Colors” displays 24 different pieces of statuary, but three works are particularly notable: the Peplos Kore, the Persian Rider and the Chios Kore.

The exhibit presents a helpful corrective to the lay impression of ancient Greek sculpture: that it was ghostly white and minimalist in decoration. This was far from the case, and it is generally believed that most ancient Greek statues, inscriptions, stelai and temple decorations were covered in bright, polychromatic hues.

The prospect opens up exciting new avenues for research. As the exhibit information boards explain, color held a vital place in the ancient Greek mind: Pythagoras and his followers believed that each of the four primary elements had their own complementary color, while ancient doctors assigned various shades to particular diseases and ailments. Different hair and skin colors were even thought to betray certain attributes in a human or a god. In Homer’s epics, Menelaus is “tawny-haired,” which likely suggests martial prowess; goddesses tend to be “white-armed,” an allusion to radiance and youth.

While art historians have meticulously traced the progression of ancient Greek chisel and sculpting techniques, little work has been done with color. With improvements in spectroscopic analysis and high-resolution photography, it will soon become possible to reconstruct the coloring of Greek marbles from the later Classical and Hellenistic periods. It would be intriguing to examine how (or if) the art of marble painting parallels the rise in artists’ technical skill and the surge in naturalism associated with those periods.

“Archaic Colors” takes an important step in providing the viewer with a more accurate depiction of the sculptures that would have confronted the Greek temple-goer. But it is just one step, and many more would be required to truly begin to approximate the experience of the ancient pilgrim. Ancient Greek statues would not only have been painted; they would have been sticky with honey and ox blood, caked with ash and incense, and bristling with bronze eyelashes, gold ornaments and even small umbrellas to ward off birds. Greek temples themselves would have fumed with the smoke of burning meat and reeked with the stench of carrion and cattle feces. On the whole, Greek ritual was not just polychromatic – it was also highly sensory and civic in nature, something not unlike a city-wide barbecue. These too are important details, for they signify just how momentous a shift Christianity would eventually pose – a religion that was bookish and introspective by comparison.

Acropolis Museum, 15 Dionysiou Areopagitou, Acropolis, tel 210.900.0900.

For details on the museum and the show, www.theacropolismuseum.gr

ekathimerini.com , Friday October 11, 2013 (21:01)  
The art of managing opera and giving it new life
Lanthimos´s The Lobster wins Jury Prize at Cannes
Greece´s last film poster painter soldiers on
Costa-Gavras honored in Cannes
Crisis changes Greeks´ consumer behavior
Once-profligate Greeks have radically changed their consumer habits since the start of the crisis, becoming more frugal in their purchases, even when it comes to basic necessities, and it ap...
Experts ring alarm bells over illegal pesticides´ effect on bee populations
“Sometimes we gather dead bees by the shovel-full. It’s obvious they’ve died of poisoning because their proboscides [tongues] are hanging out of their mouths.” The head of the Attica Beekeep...
Inside Community
Inside Gastronomy
Inside Travel
SPONSORED LINK: FinanzNachrichten.de
SPONSORED LINK: BestPrice.gr
 RECENT NEWS
1. AEK Athens returns to top league after financial collapse
2. EU funds at risk due to payment halt by the state
3. Half of Greeks cover their needs from their deposits
4. Greece reaps 2 billion euros per year from cruise sector
5. Athens waits to hear EU scheme for refugees
6. Political, economic instability turns German tourists away
more news
Today
This Week
1. IMF's Blanchard says Greek budget proposals not enough
2. Overhaul planned for car taxation
3. Germany sees progress on Greece, EU officials to confer on Thursday
4. Euro falls to four-week low as Greece deadlock spurs volatility
5. Time running out for Greece, ESM head Regling says
6. Here’s a Greek business that’s booming: Making test-tube babies
Today
This Week
1. Conspiracy madness
2. National self-awareness put to the test
3. Albanian demarche raises concerns about possible territorial claims over Greece
4. Hotel contracts with a ‘Greek default clause’
5. Neither Grexit nor a dual currency will solve Greece’s problems
6. Merkel said to plan address for Greece if deal reached
   Find us ...
  ... on
Twitter
     ... on Facebook   
About us  |  Subscriptions  |  Advertising  |  Contact us  |  Athens Plus  |  RSS  |   
Copyright © 2015, H KAΘHMEPINH All Rights Reserved.