Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Not White

"...reliefs and statues were always painted; the ideal of ancient sculpture was the painted plaster statue of France's village churches. Ancient cities were never white. In Pompeii the columns of one temple were painted yellow and white, the capitals red, white, and blue. The Parthenon was painted to cover the marble sheen, and what we now call the Pont du Gard was painted red."
From "A History of Private Life: From Pagan Rome to Byzantium"

What a startling thing to read. How can we imagine Roman cities in anything but white? I have walked the streets of Pompeii, and it will be difficult to think of it as anything other that what it appeared. Over centuries we have slavishly imitated the Romans and Greeks by planting forests of unadorned columns throughout our finest mansions, churches, and capitals. Trying to match our architecture to ruins rather than any genuine article has certainly led us astray. Turns out a bucket of paint was also needed.

What would an ancient Greek have thought of the US Capitol building or the White House? "Look at this terrific building we built! It's just like the Parthenon!"

1 comment:

Tuittu said...

My medieval arts class teacher said the "barbarians" in the 18th century (I think) removed the "ugly" and "unclassical" paint from most of the stuff they found, classical or medieval. Typical.