Colours in ancient statuary

The presence of colours in ancient classical statuary is now well known to scholars, but probably less to the wider public. Many initiatives have tried to challenge the widely held stereotype (thanks Winckelmann for that!) that ancient statues were completely white.

For example, just thinking at the example of the Peplos Kore, the Acropolis Museum has created the game “colour the Peplos Kore”, while Cambridge Archaeological Museum displays a painted cast. Similarly, many museums have used painted casts to emphasise this misconception and suggest the original aspect: for example, Munich Glyptothek has a full-scale reconstruction of the archer, with the hypothesised ancient colours.

However, the most striking case is for me that of the Igeler Säule, or Pillar of Igel: the original pillar is still standing in Igel, a small village about 10km from Trier (Germany) on the route to Luxembourg. The local cultural heritage office database offers more information, showing also how the column looked in the early 19th century. More photos of its contemporary condition are available also here.

The Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Trier, whose amazing (one of my favourites archaeological displays ever) redevelopment concluded in 2010, includes also some information on ancient colours, and has indeed highlighted these remains on the funerary monuments in its galleries. But it is only when it comes to the Igeler Säule that the effect of ancient colours really hit me. A replica of the pillar, fully painted, is displayed in the courtyard – at the same scale of the original and in open air, like it could have been encountered by an ancient passer-by on the Roman road to Trier (and surely the contrast with the austere external architecture of the museum contributes to the effect).

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So, do you know of any other similar cases? What’s your most striking example?

I am wondering what it happens when visiting the Nashville Parthenon…(dream travel list updated!)

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