The 'whiteness' of ancient sculpture

July 28 2017

Video: Vice News

The Art Newspaper alers me to this video from Vice News about the 'whiteness' of classical sculpture. Apparently, last year a US classicist, Sarah Bond, created a stir when:

[...] she published an article on the “whitewashing” of ancient Greek and Roman art. White marble statues have been naturally stripped of their polychromy over time—or were purposefully discoloured in the 18th and 19th centuries due to a romanticised notion of the “purity of white”, she says, which suggests that the ancient Greeks and Romans were a homogenous white people. [...]

In this video, the Vice News Tonight correspondent Jay Caspian Kang heads to the Art Institute of Chicago to unpack this thesis with Bond and other scholars, looking at new technologies to uncover the lost polychromy of ancient sculptures that reveals a racially diverse ancient world. 

I don't think I've ever met anyone who thought the ancient Greeks and Romans were exclusively white because that's how they look in marble sculptures. Have you? Hollywood movies, cited in the video above, may indeed portray Romans as entirely white, but that has to do with many other factors. Still, it's always fascinating to see recreations of how these painted, or poy-chromed, marbles originally appeared.

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