Photo of the week: colourful head of a bronze statue

Having talked about how colour was indispensable to Ancient Greek sculpture, to the extent that even in bronze statuary attempts were made to give a more colourful appearance, I couldn’t help posting another photo of a bronze.
This is a reconstruction based on a bronze roman copy of a Greek original, now lost. The copy is currently at the museum of Munich , where this reconstruction was made, in an attempt to help researhers and the public understand what a new bronze statue might have looked like. The bronze skin of the statue has been turned a shade darker with the help of a sulfur-based glaze and the hair even darker to provide a contrast with the ribbon, which used to be gold-plated, as were the lips and eyebrows. The eyes in this reconstruction are made of silver (plain for the whites, glazed for the irises) with inlaid semiprecious stones for pupils. The ancient artist would probably have used ivory for the whites and glass for the iris.
It is obvious that the palette of colours available to an artist working on a bronze statue is much more limited than those that can be used on marble. Nor does the use of colours make the statue so realistic as to seem human; on the contrary, the brightness of new metal must have been just right for gods and heroes for precisely that reason – the supernatural appearance it gave to otherwise naturalistic forms.

The reconstructed head of a youth, cast of a Roman copy of a lost Greek original, in the Munich Glyptothek, Germany. Photo from the book “Gods in Colour: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity,” Vinzenz Brinkmann and Raimund Wünsche editors, published in association with an exhibition at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens (in cooperation with Glyptothek Munich and Goethe Institut, Athens).

2 comments on “Photo of the week: colourful head of a bronze statue

  1. Today many people think that the bronze and marble statues we see today looked the same in antiquity whereas we’re learning that originally they were painted to appear more lifelike. A research team from Yeshiva University recently did some scans of the panel showing the sacking of Jerusalem on Titus’ arch to discover the pigments used and plan to recreated the painted image digitally. Technology can be pretty amazing.

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