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