Abstract: The Bold and the Beautiful: Polychroming and Gilding in Antiquity


Though Winckelmann and his contemporaries were aware of ancient polychromy, most eighteenth and nineteenth aesthetes elevated form in sculpture and thus overlooked the surface appearance that had been so important to the ancient aesthetic. Ancient sculptors relied on color to bring their forms to life, but this characteristic was long neglected in art historical scholarship and is often still deemed unattractive to the modern eye.

A number of exhibitions and other studies in recent years have furthered our understanding of polychromy and gilding on ancient sculpture.  This lecture examines literary evidence (including color and gilding terminology used by the ancients) and compares examples (some little known) of ancient sculpture and painting with sufficient pigment remaining to suggest reconstructions. Additionally, recent evidence for the various uses of gilded surfaces, whether on hair, clothing, flesh, or as an embellishment to architecture, is also included. Polychromy in the form of colored marbles, both for sculpture and architecture, provides insight into the taste for colored surfaces beyond the paintbrush. Finally, further evidence is provided by pigment and gilding analyses from the collections of the Museum of Art and Archaeology.

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