From the London News:
Greek ancient monuments receive splash of colour
Thursday 1st February, 2007 (IANS)
If ancient Greeks could take a walk along the many tourist stalls beneath the ancient Acropolis, they would be amazed to behold the countless marble miniatures of the popular site, all depicted in white.
Archaeologists said many of the ancient ruins looked completely different approximately 2,500 years ago, when the Parthenon was actually covered in brilliant shades of red, blue and green.
Now, a group of artists have taken the liberty to revive history with an exhibition of 21 coloured replicas of the ancient sculptures called Munich’s Gods in Colour at the National Archaeological Museum.
The exhibition, which runs until March 24, was presented for the first time at the Munich Glyptothek in 2004 before travelling to a number of countries for the past two years.
Archaeologists first discovered traces of colour on various sculptures during laser cleaning as part of ongoing restorations to the temple, built in 432 BC.
Weathering through the bleaching of the sun, blowing of sand and more modern pollution caused the colours to fade over time.
‘New research methods were developed in order to trace colour remnants on ancient sculptures.
This was followed by careful analysis in order to reproduce the initial colours with as much accuracy as possible.
When all this was achieved, colour was added to replicas of well-known Greek and Roman sculptures,’ said Museum Director Nikos Kaltsas.
‘It is a well known fact that both ancient Greek sculptures and temples featured colour, yet colour remnants on some works today cannot do justice to their original appearance,’ he added.
A portion of the Parthenon’s most intricate carvings are now housed in the British Museum in London, and Greece has repeatedly demanded that they be returned to the place of their birth.
Experts believe the Elgin Marbles may have been stripped of some of their remaining colour when they first arrived in London in the early 19th century, due to months of scraping with abrasive tools by museum officials convinced that the marbles had originally been pure white.
‘This exhibition confirms, once more, that what we know of the past is never really a given.
Archaeological research is constantly developing through the adoption of new methods, whose aim is to get closer, if not reach, the truth,’ Kaltsas added.
That exhibition was also in the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam.
The Parthenon Marbles (a name prefered by Greeks to a name honouring 19th century Lord Elgin whom they consider a robber) were also scraped with copper and caustic chemicals in order to become “pure white” in the 1930s, at the orders of Lord Duveen.
In fact, in ancient Greece, people, including priests and priestesses, wore colourful clothes.
Their sculptures and buildings were colourful.
Similarly so in Etruscan and Roman cultures.
However, textiles rarely survived thousands of years.
While Greek buildings and statues sometimes did, but often with their colours hardly surviving.
So, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries an image arose in Western Europe and North America of ancient Greece as a land of people in ‘pure’ white clothes, with ‘spotless’ white sculpture and buildings.
In that time, also racist ideologies evolved, intertwining ‘white race supremacy’ viewpoints with this misunderstanding of history.
At its sharpest in this was nazi Germany.
Originally, temples both in Egypt and in Greece (with much inspiration from Egyptian examples), had been colourful.
However, usually building materials as used in Egypt, and climate as in Egypt, preserved the colours better throughout centuries than those used, and than the climate, in Greece.
That gave rise in Western racist theories to views counterposing “pure white Aryan European” Greek art to “gaudy barbarians” like Egyptians, Semitic Jews, etc.
While already in antiquity, Aristotle had pointed out, that Greece was so special not because of any supposed “arch-Europeanness”, but because it was the country in Europe closest to Africa and Asia.
It is to be hoped that the days of “ethnic cleansing” of antique art, like happened to the Parthenon Marbles, are over for ever.
Ancient statues weren’t white marble, but “a riot of colour and glitzy decoration.” It shows that we’ve imagined the ancient world all wrong, writes Natalie Haynes.
Colours in ancient Egypt: here.
Bringing colour back to ancient textiles: here.
History of Olympic flame relay: here.
Leni Riefenstahl, mountains, and nazis: here.