Art is universal and subjective, no doubt, this has been proclaimed and discussed many times. It will never fit into one single genre and will always be evolving, based on the artists and consumers alike. Interestingly enough, some perceptions and ideologies about art have been very persistent through the ages and are seen as “true“ up to this day, even with so many different forms of art existing simultaneously. One of these very persistent ideologies is ranking around the marble statues of Greek and Roman antiquity. Their whiteness seems to represent a kind of modern minimalism and the expertly worked marble shows a beauty that fits our current beauty standard (and those back in the Renaissance) remarkably well. The idealisation of ancient Greek and Roman society as a symbol for the highest advancement of culture since the Renaissance is undoubtedly connected to the pristine surfaces of their art. However, a lesser known fact is that relatively recent studies and experiments suggest that these pristine sculptures were less minimalist in ancient times. Analyses of particles and pigments found on the surface of some sculptures suggests they were painted in very bright colours. Similarly, temples and houses have also found to have been painted, although this has been common knowledge for a longer time.
[view of the backroom in the Plaster Cast Collection of the Free University Berlin, with a painted portrait in the upper left corner © Lea Hüntemann 2018]
This picture shows a bunch of plaster casts of ancient portraits, on a shelf in the backroom of the plaster cast collection of the Free University in Berlin. In the upper left corner, a portrait with red lips and yellow eyes can be seen. The collection owns several plaster casts which have been painted and explores the notion the results have given us. It also owns several heads of the Egyptian Nofrete painted in different colours, just to see how they would work. To be honest, given the usual aesthetic one feels when viewing either Greek or Roman statues, the look of them painted plainly feels wrong. The colours seem in a way grotesque and over the top, the reds and yellows far too radiant. But this is a reminder because we never know what truly lies behind a piece of art unless we explicitly ask whoever made it, and that’s something we obviously cannot do in this case. It is also a reminder that whatever ideals and connotations with art we have today, we cannot know what people will make of it a thousand years in the future. Nonetheless, this also contributes to the beauty of art; we might not necessarily appreciate brightly painted marble statues from the get-go but this might change the way we think about Roman and Greek culture, shifting our view away from a clean-cut, perfect society, and this in the end is one of the things art is about: Creating a picture of a society. And to see how this might change just from the new findings is extraordinary
TITLE PICTURE [view of a niche in the Plaster Cast Collection of the Free University Berlin © Lea Hüntemann 2018]