The colors of Ancient Greece

Ancient Greek statues weren't merely the white marble we see today. They were painted. This amazing video from Amarildo Topalis shows you what the ancient world really looked like. It's incredible what a difference the eyes make.



Thanks Robert for pointing this out.

26 comments:

RWMG said...

>>It's incredible what a difference the eyes make.<<

I know, that was my first thought as well.

Archaeology said...

Great job! good presentation skill Nice informations

Lexi said...

Absolutely fascinating - two thoughts occur.

One, that people in the ancient world must constantly have been jumping out of their skins when coming unexpectedly upon a statue.

And two, that given the superb quality of the carving, the painting of the statues would have been of a considerably higher standard than the crude colourings in the video.

Sarah W said...

This is wonderful! People tend to think of the Romans and Greeks as serious, grave people, but they were so vibrant!

In my library, we have a reproduction of a Donatello gallery frieze of dancing putti (children). I know Donatello isn't ancient, but from what I've read about him, he took his cue from classical and ancient statuary he saw, which by his time had lost its colors a long time ago.

The problem is that the frieze isn't supposed to be seen at point-blank range, but for all sorts of practical reasons, it was recently re-hung in my department at eye level. Lots and lots of rounded, blank eyes that appear to be expressing decidedly un-childlike thoughts. Or maybe it's just me.

I'm not sure painting them would help . . . but after a year of goosebumps, I think I'd be willing to try.

Brandi G. said...

Interesting. But I agree with Lexi that I'm sure the original coloring was much more skilled. Not sure why, but I think I prefer the colorlessness; it's so much more elegant.

Meghan said...

I agree the colors probably would have been a bit more elegant (but then again who knows?), but it's always neat to see that the Ancient Greeks didn't live in a world of pale marble and red tile. It was colorful and vibrant.

Amalia T. said...

I'm curious as to whether the video colored the statues according to information gathered through whatever technology which revealed the colors and types of paints involved, or just their personal interpretation?

Great video though!

I hadn't really ever thought about color in terms of the marble statues, but it makes a lot of sense, considering how everything else was painted. Especially after looking at renderings of Mycenaean temples. Obviously vibrant colors were a long-standing tradition!

Gary Corby said...

A little bit is known about the colours from remaining traces, usually microscopic, but unfortunately the paintwork hasn't survived in any meaningful way.

These are obviously computer animations over pictures. It would be interesting to see what happened if someone made an accurate copy from marble and then painted using only natural paints.

A lot of the colours in the video are guesses, but probably not far off. The degree of vibrancy might be a touch over the top. The Greeks belonged very much to the Realist School.

One of the most famous pieces at the time was a statue of a cow, which was so realistic that a bull tried to mount it. Which must have been painful for the bull.

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Fabulous! There is a story told about one of Alexander's generals/turned enemy who did almost jump out of his skin every time he walked by one of Lysippus' statues of the dead young king. Makes more sense if you picture them highly painted. Also, I have to wonder about the light in Greece (I've never been--sob). Does what might seem garish here be brilliant in the Greek light?

Gary Corby said...

Hi Vicky, the light in Greece does indeed seem somehow brighter and gives everything a greater contrast.

But also, we're looking at computer generated colours. Whether anyone could get the same effect from natural paints is not clear to me. Which is why I think it'd be a great experiment to try it for-real. Any talented sculptor/painters out there?

Nicole MacDonald said...

Hello! Just a note to let you know I’ve awarded you the ‘One Lovely Blog’ award. Pop over to my blog to collect it. You’ll see a little blurb as to what I love about your blog too, I hope it makes you smile ; )

RWMG said...

Plus of course many cult statues would be inside the temple and not particularly well-lit. I think we tend to underestimate just how dark indoors was without big windows and good artificial light. Think night-time scenes in any film set in the ancient world -- far too much light.

Gary Corby said...

Thank you Nicole! I don't usually do blog awards, but I have enough stocked up (he says modestly) that I really should do an awards post. Stay tuned.

Gary Corby said...

Robert, I've often wondered how much light there was in those temples. (In fact, for me it's a crucial issue...how much can a witness see?)

I agree with you that they must have been pretty dark, yet common sense says they wouldn't have built as they did if the places were so dark as to be unusable.

Maybe the temples were mostly used in the morning, when the sun shone in through the doors since most temples faced east?

Lexi said...

Brandi, I think the statues are a bit like Victorian rocking horses. Invariably beautifully carved, they look good stripped down to the natural wood, but even better as they were intended: with glass eyes, gesso layer, dapples, horsehair mane and tail and leather tack.

Gary Corby said...

I should have thought of that...you're a rocking horse expert, aren't you Lexi?

Do you paint your own horses?

If you had a copy of an ancient statue, do you think you could paint it?

_*rachel*_ said...

Really amazing.

Only problem is, every time I imagine Hermes, he's wearing jogging clothes and carrying a cell phone. *hides in shame*

Lexi said...

Not an expert, Gary, but I know a bit about rocking horses. I do paint the ones I restore - there's more to dappling than you'd think.

I'd love to have a go at painting a copy of an ancient Greek statue - my favourite sculpture - but though I have a good eye, I'm not a painter, and would have to start from scratch with research. I like to get things right.

Peter Rozovsky said...

What materials did the Greek artists use for their pigments and binding materials? I ask because I wonder why so little pigment has survived on sculpture. Could making durable paint have been the one thing the Greeks were bad at?
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Gary Corby said...

Rachel,

Hermes would totally be the patron god of cell phones.

I love that idea so much I'm tempted to steal it for a short story.

I wonder who would be the patron god of the internet?

Gary Corby said...

Lexi, I'm sure there's more to dappling than I'd think. My daughters surpassed my own drawing and painting skills when they were about five.

There are lots of pseudo-classic garden statues that might make a good base for experiments.

Gary Corby said...

Peter, I love it when someone asks a question I can't answer. I'll have to look into this more, but after some quick research my guess is it's probably not all that different from the paint of Egyptian art of the same and earlier period, and early mediaeval paint. The difference being that mediaeval and Egyptian art was largely indoors. In the case of Egypt, very indoors. So it survived better. Roman artwork is similarly underrepresented.

Amalia T. said...

Sorry, Gary! Rick Riordan beat you to Hermes as patron god of Cell Phones. Have you read the Percy Jackson books? One of the things he does exceptionally well is bringing the gods into the modern world with modern specialties. His take on the mythology is mind-blowingly awesome, in my opinion.

Gary Corby said...

Amalia, how gorgeous. I've seen The Lightning Thief around and have been meaning to read it. Now I definitely will.

Jude said...

I learned this in Ancient Art class four years ago! One of the few things I remember lol :)

Gary Corby said...

I'm pretty sure you remember a whole lot more than that, Judith!