4. COLOUR: The re-enchantment of the Classical world of Europe

Colour reconstruction of ancient sculpture Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2022 

 

 

These colour reconstructions have been installed among the pristine, white Roman and Greek sculptures of the Met. 

 

 

On the right, reconstruction of the bronze statue of the so-called Terme Ruler, 2018

On the left, reconstruction of the bronze statue of the so-called Terme Boxer, 2018

 

 

They are the results of more than 40 years of the archaelogical and art historical work on ancient polychromy of Vincenz Brinkmann (German born 1958) and Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann (German born 1964). 

 

 

 

On the left, reconstruction of the bronze statue of the so-called Terme Ruler, 2018

On the right, reconstruction of the bronze statue of the so-called Terme Boxer, 2018

 

 

For the last 20 years their work has also involved an interdisciplinary network of researchers and supporters. 

 

 

 

 Reconstruction of the bronze statue of the so-called Terme Ruler, 2018

 

 

Their methods include art historical and chemical analysis of ancient imagery; and observation using, among other techniques, multispectral photography, ultraviolet light, X-ray diffraction, and thermography applied to metal. 

 

 

 

On the left, reconstruction of the bronze statue of the so-called Terme Ruler, 2018,

On the right, reconstruction of the bronze statue of the so-called Terme Boxer, 2018;

both of bronze, copper, colored stones, asphalt, linseed oil, madder lake, indigo.

 

The original bronze statues, made using the lost wax method, are of different dates (before 55 B.C.) but, were found together in the Quirinal in Rome during excavation in 1885. 

There is no consensus about who these statues depict.

 

 

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These works are shocking.

 

The almost uniform white marble of Roman and Greek statuary distanced us from the historical context and emotional or spiritual freight of the figures depicted. 

 

So did their display:  each piece standing alone and mute in galleries whose splendour and bright light does not illuminate their stories or interconnection with each other.

 

These white marble statues exist in a world in which their stories have eroded equally with the paint of their surfaces and of the walls of Greek and Roman temples.

 

Their eyes do not see out of the little caves of their eye sockets.  Their poses are unintelligble, even if some are appealing. 

 

They and their civilizations and languages are as cold and dead as their marble.

 

Only classical scholars are within the reach of these statues.

 

 

These coloured reconstructions are shocking because they propose a more accessible story and not for scholars only. 

 

This is not, of course, the resurrection of the flesh but it is analagous to it.  And very marvelous.

 

The eyes of figures the colours of whose bodies have been restored and whose eye sockets have ‘eyes’, engage yours.  You become interested in the direction, intensity and import of their gaze.

 

 

 

The Terme Boxer, as above

 

 

You recognize the threat of their weapons.

You are a witness to the oozing blood of their blistering flesh and the possibility of their imminent wounding or death.

 

 

 

The Terme Boxer, as above

 

 

 

You wonder what dyes were used in their clothing and how the patterned embellishment of the textile was achieved. 

You wonder why there were so many ancient reproductions of the so-called Small Herculaneum Woman because she is not a deity.

 

 

 

The late Classical prototype of this figure is lost.

This reconstruction is of a replica found on Delos which dates to the 2nd century B.C, is of the so-called Small Herculaneum Woman, 2019.

Marble stucco on plaster cast, natural pigments in egg tempera, gold foil.

 

The decoration of the dress hem with sea monsters and the pomegranate branch on the mantle hem of this reproduction were designed in analogy to robe depictions in vase painting of the 4th century BC and on Hellenistic sculpture.

 

 

 

 

You begin to ‘see’ the flashing sunlight on the gold and white and red and blue of the statues ranged inside a temple.  

 

 

 

Reconstruction of the so-called Cuirass-Torso from the Athenian Acropolis, Variant B, 2005; plaster cast and natural pigments (Egyptian blue; red: red ocher, calcite; flesh tones: rose madder, calcite) using  egg tempera, gold leaf. 

The original stood in the sanctuary of Athena on the Athenian Acropolis, Athens. 

Photo from the web of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

 

 

 

As distant as you know this world to be, as strange their gods, activities, and values, these figures begin to live in your imagination.

 

 

Not in a living world;

but in a world alive with the histories of men and women and their deities and their explanations for how their world worked and how they imagined themselves in the world.

 

Here are stories, many of which are extant in two meanings of the word:

 

they still exist in ancient Greek and in Latin; and, in translation, in our languages;

 

and they live – many of their stories – in their pertinence to us:

stories of human endeavour, emotion, performance, adventure, interaction, and fate;

stories of rituals, mythologies and divinities.

 

 

These reconstructed figures re-enchant our much-lived world with their old-new colour;

with the insights of the research on their prototypes;

and with the imaginative expertise of these recreations.

 

The bones of some of the ancestors of our ‘Western’ civilization are singing once more.

 

 

 

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Reconstruction of a marble archer in the costume of a horseman of the neighbouring peoples to the north and east of Greece.

from the west pediment of Temple of Aphaia on Aegina; Variant C., c. 480 B.C.

2019; marble stucco on polymethyl methacrylate, natural pigments in egg tempera, tin, wood, gold leaf. 

 

The trousers have an intricate zigzag design, a long-sleeve pullover with a diamond pattern, and a vest decorated with lions and griffins. 

The color values for this reconstruction were derived from the well-preserved color on a statue of a Persian rider from the Athenian Acropolis, and from the surviving pigments on other fragments from the same pediment. 

 

 

 

 

Reconstruction of a marble Cycladic Figure of the Spedos group, 2006,

artificial marble and natural pigments  (blue: azurite; red: cinnabar) in egg tempera.

Photo from the web of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

The artists note:

Cycladic figures in marble render the human body in a stylized and very abstract form.

At the same time, the eyes, mouth, and hair were consistently painted in color, and often the body was also adorned with dots and lines.

The meaning of these body ornaments is unclear. They may have a connection to ritual practices and religious beliefs associated with the figures.

 

 

 

 

 

Reconstruction of the so-called Alexander Sarcophagus, with a battle between Greeks and Persians, 2006;

marble stucco on laster sintered plastic, natural pigments in egg tempera. 

The original was at Sidon in present-day Lebanon, c. 320 B.C.

 

The original polychromy of the sarcophagus, believed to have been  commissioned to preserve the mortal remains of the Sidonian king Abdalonymus, a friend of Alexander the Great, has 22 pigments, all preserved.

Both Eastern and Greek garments in the original were richly ornamented, and the saddle cloths and shields were decorated with both ornamental motifs and figures.

 

 

 

 

 

The original two bronzes were found off the south coast of Calabria in 1972.  They are believed to have been originally placed on the Athenian Acropolis in Greece and originally cast (lost wax casting) between 460 and 450 B.C.

On the left, reconstruction of bronze Riace Warrior A, 2015; cast bronze, copper, colored stones, silver, gold, asphalt.

 

On the right, reconstruction of bronze Riace Warrior B, 2016/2022; cast bronze, copper, colored stones, silver, gold, asphalt.  Cap of fox skin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “4. COLOUR: The re-enchantment of the Classical world of Europe

  1. As you suggest, these interpretations are so much more convincing: alive in their zeal, their representation of a specific time and culture, and intense in a way totally missing in the white sculpted equivalents. Thank you for this fascinating episode in your blog.

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