The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (MET) launched an exhibition exploring the use of color in ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, presenting pieces from the museum’s collection as they would have originally been seen in ancient times.
Installed throughout the Greek and Roman galleries of museums, “Chroma: Ancient sculpture in color” opened on July 5 and explores the polychromythe ancient practice of painting sculpture and architecture.
It is that although today we only see carved stone and marble, many pieces of ancient sculpture were once vividly painted, giving these works realistic characteristics.
“For some, it will be a shock”said Max Hollein, director of the museum. “But one has to understand that our current, whitewashed idea of Greek and Roman antiquity is wrong. It is false”.
The Met exhibition aims to draw more attention to this practice by placing 15 full size recreations completely painted, produced by Dr. Vinzenz Brinkmanhead of the antiquities department of the Liebieghaus Sculpture Collection in Germany, and his wife Dr. Ulrike Koch-Brinkmannalong with 40 works from the museum’s collection dating from the early bronze age to the 2nd century AD
Among them is a richly colored version of the sphinx from the archaic period that serves as the centerpiece of the exhibition. Commissioned around 530 BC by the parents of a young man who had died, the sphinx was originally placed atop a pedestal.
“Colour conveys a lot of information, and when you see it from a distance, it really helps to identify different features”said Seán Hemingway, senior curator in the department of greek art Y Roman of the Met. “Also, a lot of these sculptures were outdoors, and in Greece, with that very strong, bright Mediterranean sun, you need those bright colors because they fade a little bit, they fade.”
The Greeks were great storytellers, Hemingway said. And these sculptures were often placed in temples to the gods or as memorials.. When people saw them, they would have immediately understood the different threads of history and myth that they allude to. “Like the sphinx, which is the figure of the guardian. There is the famous story of the sphinx at the crossroads and having to answer questions; that sphinx also stood on a column. So anyone who saw this sphinx would have thought of this dangerous creature that can kill you and can talk to you.”
Exhibited pieces include two bronze figures captured after a boxing matchwith the wounds painted red and the eyes so realistic that one could imagine that they are really looking at each other.
The Greeks learned artistic techniques from Egypt, Mesopotamia and Asia. “At the end point of this evolution, they learned to fool the human eyeBrinkman said. “We know from written sources that the bronze sculptures of this period were perceived as super realistic. Often people came to such statues in Greek sanctuaries and did not know exactly: are you talking to me? Will you bear this? Or is it just bronze?”.
As well as explaining why sculptures and architectural elements were painted this way at the time they were made, the show examines how polychrome conveyed meaning in both Greek and Roman civilization, and how the practice was received in ancient times. later. also reveals how experts find and identify color in works so old to recreate their original painted patternsusing state-of-the-art technology such as 3D imaging and art historical research.
“Chroma” will be on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until March 2023, when a symposium will also be held bringing together curators, conservators and scientists to discuss polychromy.
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