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Revival and Invention

Sculpture through its Material Histories

Sébastien Clerbois and Martina Droth

Materials may seem to be sculpture’s most obvious aspect. Traditionally seen as a means to an end, and frequently studied in terms of technical procedures, their intrinsic meaning often remains unquestioned. Yet materials comprise a field rich in meaning, bringing into play a wide range of issues crucial to our understanding of sculpture. This book places materials at the centre of our approach to sculpture, examining their symbolic and aesthetic language, their abstract and philosophical associations, and the ways in which they reveal the political, economic and social contexts of sculptural practice. Spanning a chronology from antiquity through to the end of the nineteenth century, the essays collected in this book uncover material properties as fundamental to artistic intentionality.

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Fabio Barry - A Whiter Shade of Pale: Relative and Absolute White in Roman Sculpture and Architecture 31

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Fabio Barry A Whiter Shade of Pale: Relative and Absolute White in Roman Sculpture and Architecture [A]s white is the colour that ref lects the greatest number of rays of light, and consequently is the most sensitive, a beautiful body will accordingly be the more beautiful the whiter it is. — Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums, 17641 Winckelmann’s elevation of the whiteness of classical statuary to a universal ideal of material beauty, sparked a debate over their original colouration that is still with us. Antoine Chrysostôme Quatremère de Quincy (1815) was only the first in a long series of respondents to argue from ancient texts and actual paint traces that antique sculpture, and buildings too, were once richly polychromed. Very recently, a travelling exhibition (2003–8) has recruited technologies, such as infrared ref lectography and f luorescence spectroscopy, to reconstruct the faded polychromy, and the results are often disconcerting in their saturation (Plate 3.22).2 More troubling, however, is the realisation that, in their enthusiasm to overturn neoclassical canons, the revisionists have marginalized the primary value of the white marble itself, which is assumed to be a neutral ground for applied pigment because it is perceived as colour-less. Indeed, in some eyes because monochrome marble is supposedly ‘blank’, then any colour adds ‘life’. Such assumptions ignore Winckelmann’s white, which, for all its aes- theticism, responded to a deeper principle that deserves more respect than it has hitherto been given. In religious sculpture and architecture brilliant...

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