A colourful antiquity

Alma Tadema, Phidias and the Frieze of Parthenon, 1869, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

There is one surprise in Alma Tadema’s painting “Phidias and the Frieze of Parthenon”; the frieze is depicted in bright colours, unlike its current white appearance.

After centuries buried or exposed to the elements, the remnants of classical antiquity reach our museums in monotonous white and grey combinations.

However, the classical past was not a place of whiteness, but one of colourful artistic landscapes.

It is rare to find pigments preserved on ancient artefacts. New and digital technologies and art can help us understand and imagine the way things could have looked like in antiquity. However, the real thing is almost always permanently lost to us.

This week I visited the archaeological museum of Thessaloniki (museums in Greece are now reopening). There, I encountered the wonderful section of the permanent exhibition devoted to colour in antiquity.

The images below were taken during my visit to the museum. All the objects depicted have one thing in common; they all have retained visible traces of their colour.


5 thoughts on “A colourful antiquity

  1. Wonderful reminder about the sculptures being painted. When I see the modern recreations like at Santorini where they fill in the color of missing parts on the frescos, it is always harshly painted. Like someone took cheap house painting and slathered it on. I think the standard is the portrait of Nefertiti by Thutmose, it is richly colored and looks completely natural. The painters of sculptures would have been the equal to the sculptors artistically. That would be fun to do an updated sculpture with natural color. Well, there are some, the puppeteer guy, who makes gigantic realistic people/babies, with pores and I think hair. But his style is creepy, but the color of the skin looks good. hahah.


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