Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Gods in Living Color

Vinzenz Brinkmann shocked the art world and shattered cultural beliefs when he unveiled his exhibition "True Colors" which restored bare white Classical sculpture to its multichromatic original glory. I love the restorations, and I think they can tell us a lot about Classical color associations with the Olympians.

In a discussion on the Neokoroi Yahoo Group about the Gods and their color attributes it was agreed by many people's UPG that Athena prefers dark red and soft yellow. Interestingly enough Brinkmann's restoration of a statue of Athena has her robed in rich saffron.

Another restoration of Athena shows a strikingly complex pattern on her aegis in gold, blue, and red with grass green snakes.

We as a culture are not accustomed to seeing these sculptures in vivid color. The effect has been called "kitschy" by some observers and even "garish" or "ugly" by others. Yet, to quote a Smithsonian article on the exhibit:

Listen to Helen of Troy, in the Euripides play that bears her name:

My life and fortunes are a monstrosity,
Partly because of Hera, partly because of my beauty.
If only I could shed my beauty and assume an uglier aspect
The way you would wipe color off a statue.

That last point is so unexpected, one might almost miss it: to strip a statue of its color is actually to disfigure it.

These restorations let us look at the past with new eyes. If a picture is worth a thousand words, think of the significance that these colored statues have for Hellenic Reconstructionists! Brinkmann has something to say about the relevance that these images would have had in the minds of the ancients in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

"We think of white marble figures as aesthetic monuments," Mr. Brinkmann says.

"We think of them as static, frozen in a museum installation. But we've learned

by our studies of polychromy that the interplay with architecture and the large ornaments on the pediment of large structures in fact turned them into actors on a kind of stage. And the more color they had, the more lifelike they looked." Much in the manner of the builders of medieval cathedrals, the Greeks told their great legends in pictures...

"The emotional response of viewers here is as intense as it has been everywhere else. The new view of antiquity upsets some people. Unconsciously, they register the message that images lie. Artists through the ages have been working hard to achieve just that. The aesthetic ideal of the Greeks was mimesis: the imitation of life. And it was color that brought their statues to life."

It is interesting to think that we culturally accept that the ancient Egyptians and Etruscans used lavish bright colors to bring their artistic visions to life, but we think of the ancient Greeks as more "Stoic" and staid in their use of color. Many modern Hellenic Reconstructionists will even tell you to worship in white linen fabrics, which is a terrible anachronism. The ancient Greeks loved color and pattern and used it abundantly in their clothes and on their statuary.

No comments:

Post a Comment