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Sculptures were colorful as well as classical

February  08, 2013

Feb. 12 lecturer will explore the many hues and gilding of buildings and statues

Most people don’t realize that many stone statues from antiquity were originally festooned with color to bring the forms to life, a subject that will be explored in a lecture at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12, in Hanson Hall of Science, Room 102.

A famous example is the Parthenon, the great columned temple atop the acropolis of Athens, Greece. Today we see white marble, but only because the colors have faded away. When it was built, many parts were painted in brilliant shades of blue, red and gold.

This common practice of coloring many buildings and statues in ancient times will be revealed by Dr. Benton Kidd, a curator from the Museum of Art and Archaeology at the University of Missouri. The lecture is titled “The Bold and the Beautiful: Polychroming and Gilding in Antiquity.”

The lecture is sponsored by the The Archaeological Institute of America, Western Illinois Society. The event is free and designed for a general audience.

Though 18th- and 19th-century scholars and art lovers were aware of ancient polychromy - the practice of decorating sculpture with a variety of colors -  they were more interested in form  than sculpture's surface appearance. Ancient sculptors relied on color to bring their forms to life but this characteristic was neglected in art historical scholarship and is often still deemed unattractive to the modern eye.

A number of exhibitions and other studies in recent years have furthered understanding of polychromy and gilding on ancient sculpture. This lecture will examine literary evidence (including color and gilding terminology used by the ancients) and compares examples (some little known) of ancient sculpture and painting with sufficient pigment remaining to suggest reconstructions. Additionally, recent evidence for the various uses of gilded surfaces, whether on hair, clothing, flesh, or as an embellishment to architecture, is also included. Polychromy in the form of colored marbles, both for sculpture and architecture, provides insight into the taste for colored surfaces beyond the paintbrush. Finally, further evidence is provided by pigment and gilding analyses from the collections of the Museum of Art and Archaeology.

Benton Kidd is with the University of Missouri, Columbia, and his areas of specialization are the cities of Hellenistic and Roman Asia Minor, the Levant, and North Africa, particularly the architecture and its decoration from these areas; also the growth of the Hellenistic cosmopolis, the intermingling of Greek and non-Greek cultures, and the resultant impact on the succeeding Roman empire.

Sam Schlouch
Senior Communication Director
(309) 794-7833