05 December 2007

τὰ πολύχροα τῶν ζῴων

For many observers it puts mimesis in an entirely new light.

An archer from the west pediment of the Temple of Aphaia, Aegina, 480-490 BC.

"The aesthetic ideal of the Greeks was mimesis: the imitation of life. And it was color that brought their statues to life." Thus Vinzenz Brinkmann, an archaeologist of the Liebieghaus museum in Frankfurt, who has assembled the show, Gods in Color, on display until January 20th at the Sackler Museum of Harvard University.

"Peplos" Kore, Two Reconstructions

According to the Sackler Museum's press release, the reconstructions, achieved with pigments matching that of the originals, were arrived at by the scientific study of the surfaces of the statues together with an analysis of the slight remains of pigments:
Research for Gods in Color included technical examination of the scarce traces of paint that remain on a number of ancient works of sculpture. Raking light--extreme side light--can reveal incised details as well as subtle patters caused by the uneven weathering of different paints on the stone surface. Similarly, ultraviolet light brings out slight surface differences--often all that has survived of the painted decoration. Analysis of pigment remains by various techniques, including polarized light microscopy, X-ray flourescence and defraction analysis, and infrared spectroscopy, provides information on the materials and colors used. The reconstructions were painted with authentic pigments by the archaeologist Dr. Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann, with the help of Sylvia Kellner.
A philosopher might wish to see the exhibit in order to appreciate better such comments as Republic 420c:
Suppose that we were painting a statue, and some one came up to us and said, Why do you not put the most beautiful colours on the most beautiful parts of the body — the eyes ought to be purple, but you have made them black — to him we might fairly answer, Sir, you would not surely have us beautify the eyes to such a degree that they are no longer eyes; consider rather whether, by giving this and the other features their due proportion, we make the whole beautiful. And so I say to you, do not compel us to assign to the guardians a sort of happiness which will make them anything but guardians; for we too can clothe our husbandmen in royal apparel, and set crowns of gold on their heads, and bid them till the ground as much as they like, and no more.