Tuesday, November 6, 2012


ANTINOUS has been the epitome of Classical male beauty for 19 centuries, and his pristine white marble statues are priceless.

But few people realize that most if not all of those statues were painted in life-like colors, as were all statues and adornments in Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome.

The Ancients believed in the Magic of Sacred Colors. Every exposed surface was painted. Walls, columns, statues - everything they could reach with a paint brush was painted. And each Color had a Magico/Sacred Meaning.

Many of you have seen the travelling art exhibition entitled GODS IN COLOR: PAINTED SCULPTURE IN CLASSICAL ANTIQUITY. It has been displayed with great success in venues in Europe and the United States.

The guiding force behind that exhibit is the German archaeologist Vinzenz Brinkmann, who has pioneered techniques of color restoration of Classical statuary.

He has been commissioned by SMITHSONIAN magazine to create a photomechanical reconstruction—never before published—of the first-century A.D. Roman Lovatelli Venus. (Photo courtesy Vinzenz Brinkmann and Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann / Stiftung Archäologie).

The statue was excavated from the ruins of a villa in Pompeii. Unlike most ancient statues, this one gave Brinkmann a head start, because copious evidence of original paint survived.

"There are rich traces of pigment which we analyzed using noninvasive methods such as UV-Vis absorption spectroscopy," he tells the magazine. "What we do is absolutely faithful, based on physical and chemical measurements."

Brinkmann is struck by the synergy of form and color in modeling the goddess’s act of disrobing. "The spectator," he says, "awaits the next second, when her nakedness will be displayed. The sculptor creates a mantle that is heavy on the upper rim, to clearly explain that it will slide—and enhances this narrative by giving the rim its own color."

The Lovatelli Venus may be one of the earliest examples of private art collecting, Brinkmann says. The work lent a decorative flourish to a nouveau-riche household. But polychromatic statuary was the norm in the Classical age.

The great writers of Greek and Roman antiquity report quite unambiguously and matter-of-factly about polychrome figures. 

The tragedian Euripides (c. 480-406 BC) picked a colorless marble statue as the image of extraordinary ugliness. When the Trojan War was unleashed because of a woman's beauty, Helen said to herself ...
"If I'd always been as ugly as a statue from which the color has been wiped off, all this suffering would not have been brought down upon men."

What we want to see, of course, are reconstructions of statues of Antinous in the original colors.

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