News from the Städelmuseum and Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung, Frankfurt am Main.

A workshop on the subject, "Colour matters. Polychromy of Ancient Greek and Roman Sculpture as Research Subject in Archaeology and Philology" was held on Friday 24th September 2021, to coincide with the closing of the exhibition ‘Bunte Götter – the Golden Edition’ at the Liebieghaus. See the workshop programme here.  

Jan Stubbe Østergaard has kindly put together some notes on his impressions of the meeting.

Paolo Liverani (speaking),  in the background; Vinzenz Brinkmann and Clarissa Blume-Jung (both standing) and Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann (sitting) . In the foreground; Oliver Primavesi (left) and Christiane Vorster (right).

Image © Jan Stubbe Østergaard

The workshop was attended by 24 scholars. The format provided for papers of 10 minutes length and 10 minutes of discussion, the whole divided into four sections. As the proceedings will not be published, some notes on them seem in order. They follow the sections of the workshop but in no way do they provide complete coverage, reflecting the writer’s view only (with apologies to other worthies I have had to omit).

Section 1 – 2: Polychromy of Ancient Sculpture: Archaeological Research, Reconstruction and Exhibition Projects & Modes of Visualization and Dissemination

In the matter of experimental reconstructions, the papers by Jorun Ruppel and Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann bore witness to the necessity of this method within polychromy research and to the fact that it is under constant development. This was exemplified by Ruppel’s production of a third reconstruction of the Diana from Pompeii, supplementing the two existing ones in order to explore additional possibilities, and by Koch-Brinkmann’s on-going collaborative work on the experimental reconstruction of the Sphinx of the Megakles Stele in the MMA, New York. The latter will be shown at the MMA’s 2022 exhibition ‘Chroma: Ancient Sculpture in Color’, as introduced by Sarah Lepinski; there, reconstructions will be mounted next to works in the galleries, while other aspects will be highlighted in a separate exhibition space. A ‘cross medial’ and in-house interdepartmental approach will be taken. In the Liebieghaus’ ‘Bunte Götter – the Golden Edition’, the research and didactic value of variants is demonstrated (Caligula; Frankfurt Muse). In connection with her remarks on the Megakles Sphinx, Koch-Brinkmann announced that her book on experimental reconstructions is forthcoming 2022. 

As for research news, it was most encouraging to hear from Anja Klöckner that the polychromy of the Teveran grave monuments will be the subject of a pilot project beginning in January 2022. It is meant to pave the way for a more comprehensive study of this singularly important and very promising material. I note that much needed further light will be thrown on the polychromy of the Western Roman provinces by the Austrian project ‘Colours Revealed – Polychromy of Roman Monuments in the Danubian Provinces’, to be launched this autumn.

The need for an historical perspective on, and an informed criticism of experimental reconstructions is evident. Clarissa Blume-Jung demonstrated this in questioning two of those shown in the exhibition, respectively the Small Herculanean Woman and the Frankfurt Muse, with variants. Neither reconstruction has been the subject of an in-depth scholarly publication, rendering constructive criticism difficult for anybody but a specialist with ‘inside knowledge’ such as Blume-Jung. In this respect, the scholarly community must weigh its demand for documentation against the resources needed to create the positive impact of the ‘Bunte Götter’ exhibitions on a very wide public and hence also on higher echelons of museum management and on funding institutions. However, the problem of how to best inform visitors about the process of reconstruction remains unsolved. Blume-Jung suggested that a survey of public/visitor reactions to reconstructions would be useful. The related, complex question of how a museum public’s experience of an experimental reconstruction relates to that of a viewer in Antiquity was raised by Nikolaus Dietrich. Daniel Graepler put that aspect into perspective by outlining the history of reconstructions as shown in various contexts since the 19th century. 

I also took away from these two sections several of the points regarding research desiderata made by Paolo Liverani in his magisterial overview of polychromy studies. I particularly noted his recommendation that polychromy research be organized so that it deals with typological categories, as for example sarcophagi, or series, as in the case of the polychromy of Roman replicas of one and the same statue type. It is to be hoped that this overview will be published in some form.

After Section 1, we visited ‘Bunte Götter – The Golden Edition’, the exhibition around which the workshop revolved. With Vinzenz Brinkmann as guide, the participants were provided with very valuable insights into the processes behind the reconstructions shown as well as the intentions behind the narrative structure of the exhibitions

Section 3: Polychromy and Narration

Oliver Primavesi focused on the concept of ambiguity in its relevance to the iconographical interpretations on which the two groupings of reconstructed ancient bronzes in the Liebieghaus exhibition are based: The Riace B statue as Eumolpus and the ‘Thermeboxer’ as Amycus. Mobilizing the literary evidence on the mythologies involved with great acumen, he highlighted the complexity of the evidence, the ambiguity, with which the interpreter must deal. A paper worthy of publication, and one related to Christiane Vorster’s criticism of the identification of the ‘Thermeboxer’ as Amycus. She argued that: 1. The Boxer is not a Barbarian, stressing the elegance of his hair and beard, 2. The ‘Terme Ruler’ is a portrait, the ‘cut’ on his cheek being fortuitous, 3. The two statues were found a month apart and not on the same level.

Section 4:  Polychromy in Sculpture and Architecture. Aesthetics and Viewing Experience

Felix Henke outlined some of the circumstances involved in an understanding of the polychromy of the cult statue of Jupiter Optimus Maximus in his Capitoline temple, famously painted in a strong red colour. He proposed the tradition in large-scale Archaic Etruscan terracotta statues of male divinities as the model, specifically those from Veii by the sculptor Vulca – according to Pliny the Elder the one who made the archaic cult statue of the temple.

Shiyanthi Thavapalan provided a most illuminating, thought-provoking insight into ancient Mesopotamian colour sense as gleaned by her from the evidence of the very large quantity of written sources in Akkadian. In its being so different from that of the Graeco-Roman world, it served to highlight one of the research desiderata included in Liverani’s overview in Section 1, namely further study of the terminology of colour in the ancient world. In such a study, anthropology and semiotics would necessarily play a part. Thavapalan’s contribution provided an opportunity of stressing how essential it is that the polychromy of the Ancient Near East and Egypt is seen as part and parcel of the study of polychromy in classical antiquity.

Hansgeorg Bankel and Stephan Zink gave two very different papers on architectural polychromy. The former made important adjustments to the chronology of the temple of Athena Aphaia on Aegina and consequently of the polychromy of the architecture and of the pediment sculptures – calling them ‘Early Classical’ in the title of his contribution in consequence of his post-Persian War dating. Happily, this important paper is due to be published. Zink in his turn moved into the Hellenistic Greek (capitals from the temple of Artemis at Magnesia on the Meander) and Republican Roman period (capitals from temple A, Largo Argentina, Rome) posing three highly relevant questions regarding architectural polychromy: one on the amount of coloring that we can expect on ancient architecture (thereby arguing to overcome the dichotomy of white versus polychrome), the other on the role of colours for architectural design, and the third on the communicative function and cultural significance of polychromy on buildings. The two contributions had in common their demonstration of the symbiotic relationship between architectural and sculptural polychromy.

The Closing Remarks (Jan Stubbe Østergaard) recognized the lively, formative, international and interdisciplinary development of polychromy studies, as witnessed by the workshop. The need to move the subject into the syllabi of universities and schools of conservation was emphasized: ensuring ‘Nachwuchs’ is now vital. There is a garden to be tended.

Jan Stubbe Østergaard

Added: 14/10/2021

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