Way Old-Time Religion…in Color

November 12th, 2007 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

All you classicists need to hie down to the Sackler Museum at Harvard before January 20th. The Gods in Color exhibit is a delightful shocker.

I’m sorry that my Greek professor didn’t live to see this. She had a strong, frequent laugh and a keen sense of humor. Perhaps she grew up that way because her mischievous father named her Ruby Ott. I remember the joy she expressed when I gave her a Jolly Green Giant rug like a huge shag foot after she mentioned that her floor was cold when she got out of bed.

painted archer She was intrigued by ancient Greeks and Romans livening their statuary with vivid colors. She had been to Athens and beyond many times, but longed to see the gods and their lesser playthings the way they were originally. She spoke of the painted garments and red lips recorded for these.

At the first U.S. showing of the gods show, she could have seen just such works, along with the technologies that made this possible.

Visit info: Check the Sackler page for the exhibit. Note that there are lots of free classes for the $9 entry and that its free to all before noon on Saturday. The museum opens at 9 a.m. Note the couple of remaining related lectures.

I grew up fascinated with ancient religions. I read every book I could on gods, Norse, Greek and many others. As most of us, I grew up with the extremely white images of the old Green and Roman gods. The fast that rain, wind and sun blanched these friezes and statues was not relevant. Weren’t the old gods depicted as white, and hence in the stereotype pure?

Well, no. as Prof. Ott told us repeatedly, the Greeks in particular had a good time with their gods. Not only did these immortals have human fun, faults and fantasies, their statues were brightly painted and as bawdy as the Athenians of the time.

This show has been in numerous European cities, after starting in Munich. Crowds seem to bifurcate in reaction. Many are as pleased as I, loved the show and embraced the revised concept and reality.

Others, as quoted in a Reuters article on the display at the Athens National Archeaological Museum could not let go and enjoy:

“Some (visitors) like it, because they did not know and it was a discovery. Some are disappointed,” said Museum Director and archaeologist Nikolaos Kaltsas. “Some have said to me personally, ‘you have completely ruined the image we had of antiquity’,” he said.

When you go, save a half hour for the technique videos. They show in detail the process by Vinzenz Brinkmann and Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann from the Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek, Munich. They reasoned correctly that modern technologies would reveal both the invisible patterns and the colors reflected in only a few tiny remaining embedded paint chips.

As well as researching old descriptions and drawings, they used two form of light. Ultraviolet revealed enough of some colors to provide accurate starts. In addition, raking light, that is, from acute angles, displayed faint patterns scratched in the marble and other stones. Those provided the intricate designs in the 23 painted reproductions.

Open the door to the Sackler. Open your mind to the garish reality that was the gods to the ancients.

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