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ted turner got loose in the sculpture garden.
February 16, 2005 10:49 PM   Subscribe

Ancient sculptures the way the ancients saw them.
posted by crunchland (31 comments total)

 
Interesting and unsettling. For a similar project, see the recolorized Amiens cathedral the way people in the Middle Ages saw it.
posted by Turtle at 11:09 PM on February 16, 2005


I have known that Greek statuary was painted but it’s interesting to see the difference it makes. For example; the colored one seems to have vulnerability the uncolored, one does not.
posted by arse_hat at 11:16 PM on February 16, 2005


On some of them, I far prefer the simplicity of what we see now. A few of the statues end up reminding me of women with drop-dead beautiful faces who are wearing way too much makeup...
posted by miss lynnster at 11:22 PM on February 16, 2005


Interesting... but the virtual paint seems to be a single homogenous colour applied across whole areas, making it look pretty crude. Presumably the ancients had varying shading and textures. But who knows...
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:45 PM on February 16, 2005


A noble effort, but it really looks incredibly amateurish. Great idea, though, I'd love to see it done more thoroughly.
posted by deafmute at 11:47 PM on February 16, 2005


Someone pitch in, we need to buy the designers Photoshop 6!
posted by Dean Keaton at 12:03 AM on February 17, 2005


I have seen painted etruscan bas-relief ossuaries that survived with the original paint, and they were pretty gaudy and paint smeared. Here are some pictures of an Etruscan sarcophagus (the last seven in the series) that retained some of its paint and it is rather subtle and nice (the individual pictures are really big).
posted by mokujin at 12:36 AM on February 17, 2005


Another Etruscan sarcophagus..
posted by mokujin at 12:43 AM on February 17, 2005


I feel like I read somewhere that the new HBO series set in Rome is going to have all the statues painted, but I could be wrong about that.
posted by stopgap at 12:57 AM on February 17, 2005


Here's a good gallery showing a number of ancient sculptures in the original colors (click through for nice, big images), and this is an interesting article about the Vatican Museum exhibit called "The Colors of White" that presents facsimilies of ancient statues in their more flamboyant form. The article touches on the research process, including some information about the technology (like electron microscopy) used to determine the original hues. And here's the Guardian on the Vatican show.

It's a shame the Vatican Museums haven't done a groovy online exhibit for this.
posted by taz at 2:00 AM on February 17, 2005


I'm with Miss Lynnster. Maybe it's what one is used to, but somehow painting these lilies never seems to improve the final product. Alternatively, someone, not me, really should follow up Mr Escargot's suggestion. They could take inspiration from here
posted by IndigoJones at 4:32 AM on February 17, 2005


Bleah, those look horrible.
Actually, they remind me of the sculptures used to great effect in this movie.
posted by ITheCosmos at 4:56 AM on February 17, 2005


Of related interest: Copying Caligula, the Liverpool Museum Conservation Centre work to duplicate for painting the Caligula head from the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek cited by taz.
posted by raygirvan at 5:11 AM on February 17, 2005


wow ... i knew ancient statuary had been painted but it's kind of shocking to see how ... they really seemed to have liked loud colors
posted by pyramid termite at 5:34 AM on February 17, 2005


It reminds me of those medieval epics, where the movie producers get to shoot on location of an actual castle. And so we're treated to scenes where the exterior of the castle is grey and crumbling. But in medieval times, the castles were new, and they often whitewashed or painted the newly cut stones. I've read that it wasn't uncommon for the grey castles of our day to be bright whites, reds, and even golden yellows. But we're so used to seeing the grey and crumblies, it almost doesn't register to us.
posted by crunchland at 6:04 AM on February 17, 2005


It's a first step. But the residue of color left on the statues would be simply the base coats. These statues were master works. Why don't we assume for a moment that the painting was as well? I'd love to see is a virtual (or actual on a replica statue) done in full realistic mode by a master painter.
posted by cptnrandy at 6:19 AM on February 17, 2005


Theophile: From what I remember from art history classes, they generally used single paint tones for different areas, and relied on the three dimensionality of the carving to provide the shadows and gradients. Which, in some ways (clothing, etc.) is like real life. Skin tones, however, are very uneven in people, hence the skin looking all weird.
posted by Bugbread at 6:54 AM on February 17, 2005


Yeah, to assume that a web geek with photoshop can really do justice to these works is a little unfair. Yes, they did use beautiful bright colors, but that doesn't mean they applied them flatly and without attention to detail (ie, the one arse_hat refers to feels altered because the photoshopping delineates the shape of the eyes and therefore gives a particular expression to the face. Very subtle differences in the lines there would produce quite different results - who knows what the original master painted? I'm sure it wasn't as cartoonish as the result on that page).

Remember when they refurbished the sistine chapel? We were so used to the faded out colors that the bright mural almost looked wrong - but it didn't look tacky and simplistic. And after becoming accustomed to the vibrancy, it gave further life to the art...

This is an interesting project, but these examples give us very little sense of what the originals were like. They can really serve only to excite the imagination.
posted by mdn at 6:54 AM on February 17, 2005


We seem to have some disagreement here. Does anyone have some reference (links, preferably) regarding whether colors were applied flatly or not?
posted by Bugbread at 7:14 AM on February 17, 2005


See, art from the greatest ancient civilization doesn't need to be repainted to be accurately appreciated as the greatest ever.
posted by mcgraw at 7:21 AM on February 17, 2005


that ClassiColor link is much more informative, it seems - the painters do appear to have used primarily flat color, but to have done so in a sensitive manner. The gold kouros, the blond kouros, and what I take to be a roman portrait head all covey how the paint might have heightened the presence of the works.

Of course, wouldn't the paint have been over bronze and marble instead of plaster? Mightn't that have added a degree of transluceny to the marble-based surfaces?
posted by mwhybark at 7:34 AM on February 17, 2005


The paint would never match the beauty of the stone itself. For my tastes, you don't smother or hide the medium of a sculpture, you respect it and use it to enhance the work, so the finished piece is a dialogue between the artist and the material. While less than finished, but no less striking because of it, Michelangelo's series of "Slaves" exemplify this. As do the later works of my favourite sculptor, Isamu Noguchi.

Yes, I'm a flaky bastard with a BFA
posted by picea at 7:47 AM on February 17, 2005


crunchland: yes. Jeremy Irons' widely-ridiculed pink castle is an authentic restoration.
posted by raygirvan at 7:56 AM on February 17, 2005


I didn't want to say anything until I checked if I could do better, but now that I have:

I think the problem is largely in the quality of the photoshopping (Ted Turner indeed). Using flat colors, but with more care, better results can be obtained.

Mandarb.net version:



Redone:


And that's by someone who can barely work photoshop (but sticking to the rules of "flat colors only"). Someone who is really good at the 'shop could probably make a pretty impressive restoration.
posted by Bugbread at 8:12 AM on February 17, 2005


The lighting isn't help in most of this pictures, it's diffused. Direct sunlight would have provided deeper shadows and given the flat skin tones more sense of form. That said, most of these examples look pretty horrible. It's funny how painting a statue can take it from revered antique beauty to bad mannequin by just adding a little color. Less really is more.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:00 AM on February 17, 2005


impressive, bugbread.
posted by crunchland at 10:19 AM on February 17, 2005


Regarding all the people taking the "these look bad, therefore stone is better than painted stone" position: Take any random old classic painting. Let's say "The Madonna of the Rocks". If you grew up never having seen the painting, but just some character positioning outlines and sketch lines, and then someone put up a lousy photoshop of what the Madonna of the Rocks might really look like painted instead of just sketched., I would hope that you wouldn't say, "That looks bad, therefore sketchy lines are better than paintings. Less is more." I would hope you would say, "I bet Da Vinci did a hell of a better job than this kid. Da Vinci probably made those stick figure sketches even better than they already are by painting them!"

I'd really like to see a professional, painted (i.e. not photoshopped, but actually painted) statue to get an idea of what it must have looked like. That's what I was hoping the FPP link was when I clicked it, so a bit of mild disappointment.

On preview: Thanks, crunchland!
posted by Bugbread at 10:28 AM on February 17, 2005


Doctor_negative makes a good point about the lighting. Many of these statues would have been in darkened temples or elevated away from close viewing. Bright fluorescent lights or monitor screens do not simulate the lighting conditions under which these pieces would have been seen by the ancients.
posted by monkeyman at 11:13 AM on February 17, 2005


Assuming the statues were carved from life (such as emperors, senators, etc.), "sensitive" paint jobs (good job, bugbread!) do show what the subject looked like better than naked stone.

FYI: buildings, temples, etc. were also painted in bright colours. Ancient Egyptian statues, buildings, etc. were painted as well.

That said, I prefer the unpainted look.
posted by deborah at 2:44 PM on February 17, 2005


Bleah, those look horrible.

Amen. I hope no one will take the crap computer fiddling of the FPP link or the crap real-world workmanship of the gallery taz linked, as providing even a rough idea of an "original" effect.

Attempts (even the vast majority of "scientific" ones) to reconstruct ancient Greek direct-aesthetic experiences are almost all shamefully poor. Examples: "authentic" recitations of Homer (my god, doing the pitch accent does not make you natural or in any other way unlike the dweeb you are in English), "authentic" Greek music recordings, and likewise most of the money expended on "expert" artistic reconstruction is wasted on ugliness.

Just another reminder (in cases, unlike these images, where the modern effort is even worth the dignity of looking at it) that the ancient Greeks were pretty damn good at these things. I'll take colorless statuary, where at least I don't have some nerd halfwit mediating my encounter with the art.
posted by Zurishaddai at 4:21 PM on February 17, 2005


It's an interesting parallel with "authentic" early music. When one confronts a work in a physical state closer to that experienced by the ancients, is one having an aesthetic experience similar to theirs? Clearly not for me -- the statues remind me of the kids in Village of the Damned.

But if all the Greek statues extant were painted up, the next generation would learn to appreciate Greek statuary that way, and they'd dismiss the white marble we revere as washed-out and unfinished.
posted by QuietDesperation at 10:17 PM on February 17, 2005


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