Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Painting the colours of Greek statues

As late as my 2010 visit to the Greek Isles, I thought that while marble Greek statues were just that, white marble. I always thought that they were a bit cold, but they had become a sort of taste thing, an exemplar of Greek taste. Then I found that they were painted.

The Wikipedia article on Ancient Greek Sculpture tells a little of the story. Paint flakes had often been found on the statues but had been ignored, even denied. It wasn't until modern technology and the work of Vinzenz Brinkmann and Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann that the light (and colour) dawned upon the scene.

This 2014 piece tells a little of the story. This 2016 piece on a current exhibition a little more.

I have to say that the colours are a little garish by current tastes. This one makes the lion look a little like a stuffed toy sitting on a child's bed!

Still, it is nice to know that there was colour around. Some of those Greek homes and temples would actually have been very drab without it.

Another reminder too about the difficulty of actually knowing the real texture of the past. As an example, it wasn't until my visit to the Greek Isles that I realised just how important water was to settlement. I did know how important trade was, but it didn't form a real pattern in my mind until the visit.

The same sort of thing applies to Australian history. When I first studied Australian history, the near starvation of the early settlement at Port Jackson was attributed to poor farming techniques. That may have been a factor, but we also now know that there was an El Nino induced drought.

I should leave the last word on Greek statues to a comment from JCW at another place:
Funny, innit; whole literary/dramatic theories have been written about the differences between Apollonian (cool/white/ classical/contained) and Dionysian (unrestrained/colourful/extreme), based on modern(ish) observation of classical statues, wot were never white in the first place. I bet Apollo and Dionysus are laughing their silly heads off after getting pissed on nectar, and agreeing that humans are pretty stupid for getting it SOOOOO wrong.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff Jim - as was your Greece series of posts.

The colours might look a little garish up close, but I guess some of the works were meant to be viewed from a distance (top of column, building, etc.) so you'd need brightness? Particularly like the blue!


2 tanners said...

Particularly the blue. When linguists argued for hundreds of years that Greeks didn't have a word for blue and therefore couldn't really see it. Ref an earlier discussion about "wine dark sea"

Anonymous said...

Yeah tanners. I can really see you striding into work dressed as the (first picture) guy on the right - "I have a solution!". Young Alex Downer would have been in his element! Much better than the charcoal grey business suit that Jim spills his breakfast over, every morning on the train, while he tries to read that pre-civilisational artifact he insists was called a "book" :)

In trying to find out just how the ancients got their marble sculptures so smooth, I stumbled upon a site talking about the rebuilding/refurbishment of the Parthenon, and I quote: The ancient Greeks took only about eight or nine years to complete the huge temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. The building of the Parthenon was the largest and most expensive project in that time in history and it was constructed almost entirely out of marble. Currently there is a reconstruction project of the Parthenon that has been going on for thirty years, cost over $90 million and is not set to be completed until 2020.

And then I read a (I thought) not unrelated piece in The Mandarin about "ALS competencies" and "LDS competencies", followed by a piece about how those same ALS/LDS people were... anyway, read it yerself: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/public-service/public-servants-urged-not-to-panic-after-superannuation-returns-plunge-20160829-gr3fup.html

So, I'm thinking, whaddaya say we send all those ALS/LDS peeps out to repaint all the statues?


Jim Belshaw said...

I had to look ALS and LDS up, kvd My heart sank a bit. We are drowning in "competencies"for things that its very difficult to teach, that really have to be learned by doing. The "APS Integrated Leadership System (ILS)" definitions - http://stateoftheservice.apsc.gov.au/learn-more/aps-integrated-leadership-system-ils/ - sound reasonable at one level, but what do they mean in general and in practice? The Canberra Times headline "Senior public servants have been told to improve their management skills and build better relationships with staff" -http://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/public-service/australian-public-service-bosses-told-to-improve-their-management-skills-20160830-gr4cah.htm - suggests that all the work in improving "leadership" may not be having the desired result.

Painting statues may be a practical solution to getting some value!

There are some good colours.

Anonymous said...

I agree Jim, with your "what do they mean" comment. I've always thought that this sort of stuff (along with 'mission statements') simply goes without saying - and becomes slightly embarrassing when written down as some sort of mantra. I mean, the sky is blue - no?


Jim Belshaw said...

Well, no. Just to improvise: "The blue sky captures the future element in our motto, ad astra. Just as the sky varies in colour from light blue to the darkening sky with the coming storm, so the changing colours around the motto reminds us of the need to be wary and ready to respond to our changing commercial environment and the needs of our customers." And so on!

Anonymous said...

Jim dear, just what sort of weed have you been smoking? I love your improvisation! Ad astra is (literally) towards the stars, and of course is part of the RAAF motto; the scurrilous translations of which, adopted by some members of that formidable band of warriors, I shall not divulge. Some former members of that formidable band, now, in their semi-dotage, mutter about 'how it ain't the air force we joined', but that's another story. The sky above the clouds, is, of course bright blue, but the ancients didn't really know that. The famous Homeric wine dark sea, IMHO, does not refer to a lack of the word for 'blue', because the sea, as in the deep Med stuff that galleys floundered about in is not blue, as in kids colouring the sea and the sky some sort of cobalt, but indeed, an almost undescribable - well, 'wine dark' colour. My first view of the Med/Aegean (away from the shoreline) impressed this upon me. I actually found 'the wine dark sea' a bit scary; as I am sure did those poor Homeric heroes.

Jim Belshaw said...

No weed, just a sudden flurry of inspiration anon. I can imagine the translations, but will let that pass for fear of embarrassing the kiddies. Well, the kiddies might not be embarrassed, I still remember certain songs from school, but their modern parents might be! As to the colour of that sea, it changes with the weather. When I saw it for the first and so far only time, it was vaster and rougher than I really expected. It can be many colours. Australian poet John Learmonth brought up on the then traditional Australian classical education seems to have wondered in much the same way as you.