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View Full Version : Did any ancient culture not paint its statues?


BrainGlutton
02-02-2011, 07:28 PM
I've often read that the ancient Greeks painted their statues in lifelike colors -- and painted all their ornamental stonework -- which we don't usually realize because all the paint wore off the surviving pieces centuries ago and we only see the color of the materials. (And, somehow, in the Renaissance through modern times, unpainted became the way almost all sculptors sculpt; I don't know if there is any connection there.) Even, I would presume, the Colossus of Rhodes would have been painted. Which implies that all the giant statues of pharaohs along the Nile (we're all thinking Egyptian this week), and all the giant Buddha statues in Afghanistan, and so on were painted when they were new. And smaller statues, stone lions in China, friezes in Teotihuacan, all surviving stonework from ancient times. Any exceptions?

brocks
02-02-2011, 07:29 PM
Easter Island?

Nava
02-03-2011, 04:29 AM
Other techniques were used in certain situations: if you were building a statue of jade, or even better, of pieces of different stones, then the color came from the base material itself. There may also be cases where individual pieces were left unpainted - if everything else is painted, the unpainted piece actually stands out. And sometimes, there was paint applied as highlights, rather than a complete covering of the base material.

IIRC the Colossus was bronze: I'd bet on unpainted. Not only does something that size not need anything more to draw attention, but the patina it acquires naturally provides highlights.

But yeah... maaaaybe Easter Islanders didn't paint the statues at all.

Alessan
02-03-2011, 06:09 AM
(And, somehow, in the Renaissance through modern times, unpainted became the way almost all sculptors sculpt; I don't know if there is any connection there.)

It's simple - Renaissance artists saw old Roman statues people had dug up, and got it into their head that the Ancients had preferred working with pure unadorned marble. Renaissance sculpture started out as a conscious emulation of what they thought was Classical art.

blindboyard
02-03-2011, 07:34 AM
Which implies that all the giant statues of pharaohs along the Nile (we're all thinking Egyptian this week), and all the giant Buddha statues in Afghanistan, and so on were painted when they were new. And smaller statues, stone lions in China, friezes in Teotihuacan, all surviving stonework from ancient times. Any exceptions?

I'm not sure the traits of ancient Classical art were followed in Teotihuacan or China, although Chinese art was heavily influences by Hellenistic art due to the Gaeco-Buddhist tradition.

Dewey Finn
02-03-2011, 08:05 AM
I don't see how it follows that because ancient Greeks painted their sculptures that other cultures did as well.

CalMeacham
02-03-2011, 08:14 AM
I don't see how it follows that because ancient Greeks painted their sculptures that other cultures did as well.

I don't think he's saying that they did it because the Greeks did -- he's asking if anyone else didn't paint them. Did anyone have the "modern" preference for unpainted statues?


Certainly the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Chinese, and others painted statues. I don't know if they painted all their statues, though. I'd be willing to bet that all of them, Greeks and Romans included, left some statues unpainted or partly painted, if only because it costs time, money, and effort to put all that paint on. I've seen restorations of antefixes that are painted, but I'd bet most of them weren't painted at all. I've never seen a recovered oscilla with paint on it. I'd be willing to bet that most of those colossal Egyptian statues were unpainted (Even if they'd started out with paint on them, winds and exposure would flake it off pretty soon)



So I suspect you're right that just about all cultures had painted statuary, and probably saw it as an ideal, but I also think that, as a practical measure (rather than an aesthetic one), they had an awful lot of unpainted statuary, too.,

Mr. Excellent
02-03-2011, 08:56 AM
I don't think he's saying that they did it because the Greeks did -- he's asking if anyone else didn't paint them. Did anyone have the "modern" preference for unpainted statues?


Certainly the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Chinese, and others painted statues. I don't know if they painted all their statues, though. I'd be willing to bet that all of them, Greeks and Romans included, left some statues unpainted or partly painted, if only because it costs time, money, and effort to put all that paint on. I've seen restorations of antefixes that are painted, but I'd bet most of them weren't painted at all. I've never seen a recovered oscilla with paint on it. I'd be willing to bet that most of those colossal Egyptian statues were unpainted (Even if they'd started out with paint on them, winds and exposure would flake it off pretty soon)



So I suspect you're right that just about all cultures had painted statuary, and probably saw it as an ideal, but I also think that, as a practical measure (rather than an aesthetic one), they had an awful lot of unpainted statuary, too.,

I don't necessarily disagree, but I would point out that painting a statue is relatively trivial, even if you're limited to Bronze Age tools. Sculpting the damn thing, however, is not. If you've already decided to commit the time and resources to sculpt the thing, it seems sort of pointless to refrain from the modest additional effort to paint it, unless you genuinely prefer unpainted statues.