Today was full of reading and writing- a real treat. One of my favorite articles was about Ancient Greek and Roman polychrome statues. Their characteristic whiteness, largely thanks to J. J. Winckelmann the founder of scientific archaeology, who saw the trace colors on sculptures from antiquity but assigned them to cultures other than Greece/Rome.

From Wincklemann’s writings we can state that ancient polychromy has been known since the 18th century. It has also been debated, denied, and incorrectly interpreted since the 18th century. Some are still fierce proponents of white antiquity. With new (post 1980) advancements in analytical techniques we are better able to understand the colorful past. Ultraviolet-excited visible fluorescence can be used to see designs executed in paint but no longer visible in white light.Depending on the weathering color, pigments are tentatively assigned (e.g. dark surface suggests an ochre). It is not clear how these pigments are chosen or what determined the correlative system of attribution. Conclusions are also drawn from depictions on vases, which may suggest a certain color palette or patterning. Other analytical techniques are implied but not explicitly stated. Oils were identified suggesting FTIR or SEM-EDS may have been carried out. Lead white was identified on a stone substrate which suggests elemental analysis was performed, likely using MA-XRF or XRD. “Glancing light” is mentioned and likely what we call raking light. According to the article, the hue of the famous tanned Riace Warriors was achieved by applying thinned layers of asphalt varnish with red pigment to the sculptures’ bronze surface. Different alloys of metals were used for various body parts to increase the lifelike quality of the sculptures, as well as the addition of stone eyes and silver-leaf teeth.

The article Gods In Color appears to be authored by by Vinzenz Brinkmann. He and his wife, both archaeologists, are responsible for the polychrome reconstructions within the traveling exhibition.Further investigation is needed into the analytical techniques employed by Brinkmann. He has authored a book and when I get my hands on it I’ll be sure to update this post. The article can be read here:

Natalya Swanson