During the Classical period of ancient Greece (around 5th century BCE), colors played a significant role in various aspects of life, including art, clothing, and architecture. Contrary to the popular modern conception of Greek statues and temples as pristine white marble, many were originally painted in vibrant colors.
1. **Polychromy**: This term refers to the art of painting in several colors, especially as applied to ancient pottery or sculpture. There's evidence that many of the white marble statues and temples we see today were once adorned with colorful paints.
2. **Colors Used**: Through various methods such as pigment analysis, researchers have identified several pigments used by ancient Greeks, including:
- **Blues and greens**: Obtained from azurite and malachite.
- **Reds and yellows**: Made from ochres and oxides.
- **Black**: Typically from burned bone or charcoal.
- **White**: From lead or chalk.
3. **Statues**: They were not just painted in flat colors. Rather, the paintwork on statues was detailed, with shaded effects, intricate patterns, and lifelike colorations. Clothes, hair, eyes, lips, jewelry – every detail could be painted.
4. **Temples**: Architectural sculptures and elements like metopes, friezes, and pediments on temples were also brightly painted. This added a dimension of vivacity and richness to these structures.
5. **Discovery and Evidence**: The idea of polychromy in ancient Greece isn't just speculation. Traces of paint have been found on ancient sculptures and buildings. Ultraviolet light and other specialized tools have allowed researchers to identify places where paint remains or where it once was.
**Why the Misconception?**
The perception of white marble as the standard for Classical Greek art largely began during the Renaissance. As Europeans rediscovered Greek and Roman art, they found statues and buildings that had been stripped of their paint over time. The idealized white form became synonymous with classical purity and was thus admired and emulated in neoclassical art and architecture.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, when many museums were founded and collecting antiquities, the aesthetic of the time was still very much in favor of the pure white statue. Sometimes, if a statue still had traces of color, it was even cleaned off to match this ideal.
In recent years, the understanding and appreciation of the polychromy of ancient Greek (and Roman) art have grown. Reconstructions and research projects have aimed to show the public just how colorful and vibrant these pieces would have looked in their prime.