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FORVM`s Classical Numismatics Discussion Board  |  Numism  |  Reading For the Advanced Collector  |  Topic: Roman statues and monuments were painted 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
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Author Topic: Roman statues and monuments were painted  (Read 3503 times)
basemetal
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« on: December 18, 2005, 11:00:13 pm »

Ok..not exactly about roman coins, but an attempt to quantify the outlook of the ancient roman.
Were one to come back today...he'd look at the statues we've preserved and say "Very good condition, when are you going to color it?"
A preception that has held over from the rediscovery of the roman culture in the 1600's is the pristine, austere, minimal style of roman art.   
Unfortunately this is wrong.  The romans tarted up their statues and monuments in the manner of Mexican cab drivers.
You would not, if approaching Hadrian's tomb shortly after his death, have been awe-stricken by the grandeur of the dome, the portico and the side adornments.
You would have gasped at the colors applied to everything.  The statues to a modern would have looked like expensive mannekins-complete with colored eyes, clothing, and fleshtones, the colored inscriptions (in what moderns would call garish colors) T he overall oddness of the whole thing would have overwhelmed a modern.
Venus De Milo and Nike were both colored up to the max.  This is in keeping with my suppositon that were we to travel back in time to the ancient roman era, our first impression would be Third World, Tijuana, garish.  Since history shows that they infulenced modern culture as they did, this is in a way immaterial and a moot point . But the real Romans liked flash and glam!
Wow..do you think I will get flamed on this or just austere rebuttals.  As  I said...if you can't see the irony and humor in roman coins culture, and sex (then and now) you are  a plastic pen protector type.
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« Reply #1 on: December 19, 2005, 12:27:36 am »

You could say something similar about English medieval churches; nowadays they're stripped down to the plaster with the occasional faded remnant of a painting. Before the reformation they'd have been covered in paintings showing Biblical scenes or incidents from the lives of the saints.
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slokind
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« Reply #2 on: December 19, 2005, 02:00:21 am »

There is a huge literature on the coloring of ancient statues.  Coloring took many forms (see the 'article' I sent to Joe for Forvm), some of which have always been known to everyone who went beyond tourist guidebooks and encyclopedias.  The most richly colored, like that Madonna in Seville, incorporated semi-precious stones and enamels or glass-paste, and these were usually cult statues protected in their temples.  The Zeus at Olympia and the Athena Parthenos were not mainly white; they had a lot of gold (not just gilding) and her shield had inlaid metals.  Under the Empire, for Rome (as a huge exhibit in Rome showed a couple of years ago) assorted colored marble was used not only in the architecture but in the sculpture that was part of its embellishment.  As for statues (I trust you know the Riace warriors with their inlaid eyes, their silver teeth, their copper lips and aureoles around the nipples, which were typical) when bronze and inlays were not affordable or appropriate, depending on the installation, they did often, but not always, add color in paint.  There are substantial traces of paint on a head of a Doryphoros found at Corinth.  Ultraviolet light is useful in picking up faint traces of paint, too.  Blackish traces, oxidized, can be analysed spectroscopically as was done more than half a century ago for the Kore statues from the Athens Acropolis; one of the earliest Kouroi (its head is in the National Archaeological Museum) from the Kerameikos cemetery still has traced of black or brown in its hair and plain red on its headband.  The pure white statues that inspired neo-Classical sculpture were, alas, acid cleaned and, some of them, scraped: an example is the Apollo Belvedere.
That said, it is important to understand that though marble statues often were painted, they usually were not painted all over; features and border patterns and the like were painted.  There is a portrait head of Caligula in Copenhagen with clear traces of eye color and eyelashes still preserved.  Occasionally, a statue may have been fully painted, probably to make it look more like a precious-materials cult image, but usually the beauty of fine marble was realized and respected: hair, features, headbands, sandals, shields, and the like were regarded as color enough.  There is good laboratory evidence for this variety of approaches.
That is about as much as I can put in a Forvm thread, but it is very important that we all understand that it is not a question of statuary being always colored or always not colored, or always partly colored.  There was great variability in practice and taste, from place to place and depending on what kind of a statue it was.
Patricia Lawrence
See the monograph by Alain Pasquier on the Venus di Milo.  I should take it for granted that her hair and features were colored and possibly the drapery, but not, I think the flesh.
Praxiteles in the middle of the 4th c. BCE specified that the painter Nikias, his friend, alone was capable of adding color to his marble statues subtly enough.  That would apply to the Aphrodite of Knidos herself, and it would include a touch of shell pink in her ears, for example, and need I mention her nipples?  They may, also, have routinely toned the surfaces that were not colored, meaning the rest of her, with beeswax.  Well, I have to stop.  As I say, there's a huge bibliography on this.  And don't believe what you read in encyclopedias or worse until you've done some serious research.
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Numerianus
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« Reply #3 on: December 19, 2005, 04:17:45 am »

Very nice short article, Pat!

Outdoors statue usually were not colored: ancient Romans appreciated
the noble color of noble material.
 The artists of Renaissance (the Great Artists!)  had enough sense of beautiful:  they were implicitly
accused above.
Many popular sources  ("encyclopedias or worse")  give a biased account with a flavor of sensation
and scandal ("Vow, Michelangelo did not understand that the ancient statues were colored!").
By the way, traces of coloring  is not a proof: statues were "in action" for centuries and could be colored
under circumstances. As we know, nude figures of Vatican frescoes sometimes were decently dressed. 
Besides esthetical compatibility, there was a problem of maintenance: the painting on marbre is very unstable
and statues were intended to serve for perpetuity...
 
 
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« Reply #4 on: December 19, 2005, 12:53:44 pm »

Renaissance artists were not accused implicitly; it is a fact that they had fewer statues than we have and fewer well edited text sources and next to no access to Greece and Turkey and North Africa; also they lacked (they would have loved) the technical assets that we have.
I forgot to mention that true encaustic (hoof glue + wax + pigment) was what was used to color marble (also used in panel painting as later on the icons from Sinai, St. Catherine's).  Encaustic was, so far as I know, the only medium that would adhere well to marble.  On wooden statues (like limestone coated with gesso) water-based pigments could be used, with or without a binder such as egg and/or honey or urine.  Greece learned paint-on-gesso surely from Egypt.  Which of them invented encaustic, which occurs earliest to add color to details of marble temples (Egypt did not build in marble, and no paint will stick to diorite or granite!), I do not know.  On the Stoa of Attalos, latex (which will stick) was used on the illusion of perforation on the parapet of the rebuilt Stoa of Attalos; half a century later it needs to be redone.  Perhaps encaustic would have lasted longer.  There's a nice early Ionic capital with color preserved in the Stoa of Attalos Museum (also one in the Acropolis Museum).
Until quite recently we have regularly underestimated the arts and crafts technology of the ancient Mediterranean world, simply because they were pre-industrial and pre-electronic.
The encaustic mummy masks, of course, are post-Classical, Greco-Roman Egypt.
Pat L.
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Numerianus
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« Reply #5 on: December 19, 2005, 01:28:54 pm »

I am lost in your argumentation  and facts communicated.
Could you, please, be more precise, in particular in time limits?
Let us  consider the period 1st-3rd centuries, Ancient Rome.
Authors  informed us that in the  City there was so many statues
as it would be the second population.  Were these statues  colored in their mass
or not?
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slokind
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« Reply #6 on: December 19, 2005, 07:58:20 pm »

It depended on what kind of statue, made to whose taste, at how much or little expense, etc.  If there was any huge difference between statuary in Greek and Roman centuries, it likely would be in the greater use of sculpture as architectural and garden decoration from later Hellenistic through the Severans and again, perhaps, under Constantine, with concomitant greater use, in public buildings, of colored stone.  Beyond that I'd hate to go, I won't go.  One cannot do statistics on the non-existent, and impressions can be altered by conditions of preservation and excavation and how badly ripped off a place was.  As much as I said can be put together from bits of all sorts of information.  Also, just think: Tivoli isn't Capri, and Pliny's villa wasn't the sort of place mocked in the Satyricon; among the houses at Pompeii and around the Bay of Naples you can find all sorts of taste, but you rarely find their statuary in them.  If you live near Cassel, you can go see their painted Athena and Apollo and the polished brass-colored or fire-gilded Apollo, but they do not pretend that that is how copies were colored, as a category, categorically.  They may not have used quite the right pigments: just being fully colored does not per se make a statue hard to look at.  Always remember: talking about "the ancients" or "the Romans" is like Colleges of Education talking about "the child".
Anyway, it has taken me about 50 years just to reach the stage of positive uncertaintly which I volunteered to share.  The question has always interested me.  Perhaps the reason my 'argumentation' was confusing was that there wasn't any, only a brief sharing of what I know that I think is useful; I wish I had another life to study these things, since one's assumptions are always being altered by new finds.
Patricia Lawrence
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basemetal
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« Reply #7 on: December 19, 2005, 09:16:53 pm »

Wow! My first post that provoked an extended educated  discussion!  It makes me feel...like well...going and cleaning a coin!

Seriously, there is a school of thought that says in essence "The details of the past are unknowable and therefore we shouldn't try" Profantity is rightly prohibited concering ideas or philosophies on the forum but....though the exact details of what happened when and where are, I suppose unknowable (put a small complex scratch on the wall in your workplace just because and think of future historians trying to decipher it) but precise generalities (wow is that an oxymoron or what) are knowable.
My main original point was: The real world of the ancient romans was more colorful and was a combination of tacky and sublime that moderns never appreciate. The Flavian Amphitheatre with folks  throwing human waste into the streets nearby.  Beautiful works of art and the common affliction of boils (they used to be common here(US) till antibiotics).  And to the one above post that seemed disturbed by the comparison of ancient rome with a modern third world country-by modern standards in many ways-not all-rome was. It did not make rome any less than it was,  I only meant that the modern minimalist idea of the purity of carved white or pink marble-don't you dare add anything-was not the ancient roman perception.  As in mideval times, where there is no color-create it.  Whole learned schools of thought that influenced architecture and art  were based on an idea of lack of color in ancient roman times.

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Numerianus
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« Reply #8 on: December 20, 2005, 02:25:10 am »

Let us be more specific: we are speaking about estetical principles of the high art of Antiquity
"A preception that has held over from the rediscovery of the roman culture in the 1600's
[This was much earlier.] is the pristine, austere, minimal style of roman art.   
Unfortunately this is wrong.  The romans tarted up their statues and monuments in the manner of Mexican cab drivers."
The quote sends an unambiguous message.
It expresses an idea that the great personalities of the Renaissance
did not revive the esthetic of classical art but, erroneously, created a new one, black and
white of Carrara marble. So, the "real" esthetic of antiquity was close to that of kitsch or art of Amerindiens. 
   Of course, this is fundamentally erroneous.   
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