Myth and triumph of white marble

We associate the art of classical antiquity with white marble. The word “classical” itself implies it. “Classical” means harmony of human body, profound meaning, respectful time distance and grand echo in the unbreakable silence of the museum, doesn’t it? A glimpse of white tunic in the midst of the colorful Mediterranean crowd or a white marble colonnade or sculpture at the background in some historical movie immediately identifies to us the period. It’s Antiquity! Roman or Creek, we are not sure, until Roman legionnaires show up. It might be Byzantium too, but we do not have particular anchors for Eastern Roman Empire. So, it is Antiquity – all the same as long as white marble is around.

This view was established during Renaissance, when Michelangelo and other giants of art found in the dug out sculptures the source of inspiration. Since then, we learned to admire sculpted forms, although they are usually not as visited in the museums as paintings. Still, we recognize a masterpiece by the feel of warmth that radiates through the delicately treated marble surface. Unfortunately, most of art works we see are copies. I remember the powerful impression I got from my first encounter with the original by Michelangelo. For us, it is just pure form that expresses the hidden quality of the content.

The painted sculptures, usually wooden, do not command such a respect, probably because their surface tends to deteriorate faster, with notable exception of African painted wooden art, which did not became favorite of mainstream. We tend to think that painting is an easier way to impress. Colors always attract attention, and from our own limited painting experience we also know how a good layer of paint can hide the underlying defects. Art of facial cosmetics, which we observe every day, also support the latter. That’s probably why the painted sculpture is mostly associated with a folks art, where the symbolic value of the object is the main source of admiration allows, so much so that its other qualities almost do not matter.

That was the state of my thinking when I learned that Ancient Greeks and Romans actually painted their sculptures and other monuments. At first, I did not want to believe. Then I started to look closer and think more about those times. Those bright colors of Mediterranean nature – sky, sea, sun, rocks, lakes, mountains, trees and grass – they were gods and their colors had to be reflected in their images. Also, people – the motley crowd of European, African, Asian origin. The Middle East is the place of the oldest city life in the world. I doubt that its colors have changed for the last ten thousand of years. And how about Persia and India, with which so many wars and cultural exchanges happened?

So, eventually I got used to the idea and then internalized it enough to be able to always see the ancient world in the colors presented below. It did not change my attitude to the white marble, which, like a ballet too, will remain the high art that connects us with heavens. As for Ancient Greeks and Romans, they were heathen, so heavens were much closer to them – just there, you see, on the top of Mount Olympus or Mount Vesuvius.

Caligula. 37-41 CE

Caligula. 37-41 CE

Caligula. 37-41 CE

Caligula. 37-41 CE

Reconstruction by Francesco Vezzoli

Reconstruction by Francesco Vezzoli

Satyr. Reconstruction by Francesco Vezzoli

Satyr. Reconstruction by Francesco Vezzoli

Young Roman. III century CE

Young Roman.

III century CE

Athens. 540 BC

Athens. 540 BC

Lion. Greece (c. 570-560 BCE)

Lion. Greece (c. 570-560 BCE)

Lion. Greece (c. 570-560 BCE)

Lion. Greece (c. 570-560 BCE)

The above pictures I took from here.
Artemis. Pompeii. Vinzenz Brinkmann reconstruction

Artemis. Pompeii. Vinzenz Brinkmann reconstruction

Apollo

Apollo

Augustus

Augustus

Augustus. Fragment

Augustus. Fragment

Athens. 470 BCE

Athens. 470 BCE

Athena

Athena

Aphaia temple. 490/480 BCE

Aphaia temple. 490/480 BCE

Vase

Vase

Relief

Relief

370 BCE

370 BCE

Paris

Paris

Fronton

Fronton

From the back

From the back

Centaurus

Centaurus

Alexander sarcophagus

Alexander sarcophagus

The above pictures I took from here.
Reconstruction

Reconstruction

Parthenon reconstruction

Parthenon reconstruction

Doric style

Doric style

The above pictures I took from here.
Possible appearance of Parthenon. 400 BC

Possible appearance of Parthenon. 400 BC

Another version of Parthenon. 400 BC

Another version of Parthenon. 400 BC

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