26 February 2015

Were Classical statues and buildings pure white marble? Go to the Ashmolean!

Really devoted readers will recall some posts, last October, about a travelling Exhibition I had seen in Copenhagen, when I was again welcomed by the Latin Mass Group to visit their fabulous city. The exhibition, at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, showed plaster casts of Classical sculpture coloured as the originals have been shown to have been coloured by modern research. Pathologically devoted readers will recall how I lamented that this Exhibition, which has been going around the major galleries of Europe and America since 2003, had never visited Britain. Now some parts of it are over here; it is in the Ashmolean Museum, free of charge, until June.

The Copenhagen showing was accompanied by a book-of-the-exhibition which I commented upon (Transformations Classical Sculpture in Colour published by the Gallery; 249DKK; ISBN 978-87-7452-337-6; 351pp; much colour). I repeat here some comments I made in October.

This book must be a fascination for all with an interest in the Classical world (and perhaps also for those curious about the scientific methodologies upon which the conclusions are based). The covers tell you what you're going to get: the Divine Caligula ... always dead scary ... on the front, with his colour partially restored; on the back, the Grave Monument of Phrasikleia, in full colour. And there is more than a gesture towards other ancient analogues, and twentieth century art-history parallels. The only thing a rational person could miss is an index.

Let me, with my little thumb, pick out a plum: a seriously good article by Oliver Primavesi, Professor of Greek in the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet in Munich, on two passages from Euripides and one from Chaeremon's Alphesiboea, referring to the painting of statues. Primavesi is a convincing textual critic, and Englishmen/Englishwomen will be reassured to know that he vindicates Richard (Oude tode[toddy] oude tallo[tallow]) Porson against the Graf Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorf (if I've spelt that wrong I just don't care). The Chaeremon passage, after emendation of the text as given in the Deipnosophists, is translated

He studied the views of her body,
resplendent (stilbonta) in her white (leukoi) skin and radiant.
Yet modesty accompanied this with a most gentle blush (eruthema)
thus modifying the brightness (lamproi) of her complexion.
But her tresses, in red blonde colour as of a statue
sculpted with even the details of its curls,
were tossed about luxuriantly in the humming (xouthoisin) breezes.

This interested me because a great deal of the evidence in this volume suggests the normativeness of painting the stone in skin tones. But Chaeremon, with images in his mind of statuary, suggests that only a blush varied the whiteness of her skin ... not pink paint.


Woody said...

Last Summer, Edith and I were given a bicycle tour of Munich by the charming Sophia Kuby, then director of European Dignity Watch, in which we briefly visited the LMU, seeing the memorial to the Scholls and the rest of the White Rose group. Also the Theatinerkirche, not to be missed by any visitor, with very reverent liturgy, rosary for the dead, and the Wittelsbach crypt, housing the remains of Crown Prince Ruprecht.

Benjamin Ekman said...

Came across this yesterday, and thought of these posts: "Any theory divorced from living examples, however admirably it may be dressed out, is like the unbreathing statue, with its show of a blooming complexion impressed in tints and colours; but the man who acts as well as teaches, as the Gospel tells us, he is the man who is truly living, and has the bloom of beauty, and is efficient and stirring. [ἐπεὶ καὶ πᾶς λόγος δίχα τῶν ἔργων θεωρούμενος, κἂν ὅτι μάλιστα κεκαλλωπισμένος τύχῃ, εἰκόνι ἔοικεν ἀψύχῳ ἐν βαφαῖς καὶ χρώμασιν εὐανθῆ τινα χαρακτῆρα προδεικνυούσῃ· ὁ δὲ ποιῶν καὶ διδάσκων, καθώς φησί που τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, οὗτος ἀληθῶς ζῶν ἐστιν ἄνθρωπος καὶ ὡραῖος τῷ κάλλει καὶ ἐνεργὸς καὶ κινούμενος.]" (Gregorius of Nyssa, De virginitate 23.1)

/Benjamin, from Lund on the other side of the bridge from Copenhagen