The Reconstruction of the colors of ancient greek statues:
Not that I want to seem overcritical, but what I found weird with the reconsruction of the skin color in ancient greek statues, as how it has been carried out by Prof. Brinkmann ( See several images for example here: http://www.colourlovers.com/blog/2008/06/16/gods-in-color-painted-sculpture-of-classical-antiquity/ ) , is that the results seem to extremely pinkish in the lighter tanned figures.
My problems come with wondering how far we should imagine all Greek and Roman sculptures painted in this way. Or whether in the Roman world, at least, we should really be thinking of a more delicate colouring, not a garish smearing. http://timesonline.typepad.com/dons_life/2007/12/were-ancient-st.html
That pink tone of skin does make one think of either antique baby dolls or something “very north-west” European. Even the ancient greeks with a pale tan, probably weren’t so pink. This type of pinkness seems to fit a certian racial classification.
The definition of white people has varied in different time periods and locations. Ancient Greece and Rome used the term white as one description of skin color. Its light appearance was distinguished, for example, in a comparison of white-skinned Persian soldiers from the sun-tanned skin of Greek troops in Xenophon’s Agesilaus. One early use of the term appears in the Amherst Papyri, which were scrolls written in ancient Ptolemaic Greek. It contained the use of black and white in reference to human skin color. In an analysis of the rise of the term, classicist James Dee found that, “the Greeks and Romans do not describe themselves as “white people” —or as anything else because they had no regular word in their color vocabulary for themselves—and we can see that the concept of a distinct ‘white race’ was not present in the ancient world.” Assignment of positive and negative connotations of white and black date to the classical period in a number of European languages, but these differences were not applied to skin color per se.
Religious conversion was described figuratively as a change in skin color.
The New York Times of Sept 26 1887 reports the amazing findings of coloured statues in greece, interestingly though the color of skin isn’t mentioned in the description of the colorings, see (PDF): http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9903EEDC1530E633A25755C2A96F9C94669FD7CF&oref=slogin
And, here are two other comments that raise a valid critique:
It’s reasonable to assume that the painting on the figures was at least as sophisticated as the figures themselves. By the time of the Alexander Sarcophagus the subtlety of the sculpture has far outstripped the colors identified and applied by Brinkmann. This does not mean that Brinkmann has left the path of accurate reconstruction; it may mean that his ultimate goal is impossibly distant. The colors he has identified on later pieces are clearly just underpainting for a far more realistic final finish. This was the process used in Renaissance oil paintings of equivalent visual sophistication. The assumption that the painting was as sophisticated as the figures is an extremely conservative one. The artistic and manual skills required for realistic sculpting are far greater than those required for life-like painting of a finished figure. And the painting task was a relaxed one, far more amenable to messing around until the artist got it right. So painting was easier, less risky and, because of weathering, constantly in demand. It is reasonable to conclude that until sculpting reached its zenith, painting of figures was substantially more sophisticated than the figures themselves. With luck, Brinkmann will eventually find a piece with all the layers intact.
Posted by Gregory Meeker on June 29,2008 07:22AM on http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/true-colors.html
Would these reconstructions on show be somewhat misleading about the colouring techniques? I can’t help thinking (with all apologies to the modern painters involved), that the originals may have been more sutble in tone and technique than the ones shown.