Polychrome Art History
For centuries the human form rendered in white marble has been considered the pinnacle of sculptural beauty in Western art, despite visible traces of original polychromy. Today it is widely known that this misconception is based on false perceptions, and we want to contribute to the writing of a polychrome history of art. We call for a critical discource on polychrome reconstructions and the relationship between colours, materials and the surface.
Painted marble head of a Greek goddess, 3rd-1st century BC. Detail with eyes. Athens, Acropolis Museum.
Investigations of the use of colour on ancient and medieval art tend to focus on reconstruction and symbolic representation. But when material, gold, colour, light and tactility are explored as a whole, we may come closer to an understanding of how an art object was perceived in its original context. Polychrome Art History confronts established ‘truths’ about gildings and colours on ancient and medieval sculpture and reconstructions in a two-dimensional colour that pays little attention to their playful variation. Polychrome Art History aims at providing a deeper understanding of how polychromy functioned and was received in Antiquity, the Middle Ages, Byzantium and the Renaissance.
The collections of the Museum of Cultural History include Classical marble sculpture fragments with traces of pigments and medieval polychrome wooden sculpture with exceptional well-preserved polychromy. We participate in an important re-examining of the past by basing our investigations on this material and related examples.
Falsely constructed aesthetic ideals have to be confronted with facts. Reconstructions, however, also have to be approached with a critical mind. Sometimes they are overlooked. We pay particular attention to the subtle qualities of the material and the interplay between the materiality, the painted and gilded surfaces, shadow and light in our contribution to the topic of Classical and medieval sculpture and their polychromy.
See more on reconstruction of medieval works of art from the collection of the Museum of Cultural History here.