Ancient Greeks, Color Perception and Painted Statues

Here’s the link to the classic column, “Could Early Man See Only Three Colors?”

The column quotes Lazarus Geiger, a [Victorian?] naturalist[!], as follows:

I’m wondering whether the Berlin/Kay book cited (or any smart Doper knows) the actual Cicero, Pliny and Quintillian passages Geiger is referring to. I learned in college art history that relatively recent archaeology had determined that lots of Greek temple statues were originally painted, often in vivid color. Maybe the ancient authors were just talking about pottery painting/glazing, where the use of red/black was the height of aesthetics.

Or maybe I’m losing my marbles, and only the Romans painted their marbles.

Anyway, Geiger’s reference sounds odd to me–why would the ancient wrtiers say that painters ONLY used these colors? Surely the process of mixing paint pigment would result in many different shades, intentional or not. Is this just an example of how the lack of ancient color vocabulary has confused translators?

I think that the the ancient Greeks used only a few colors, but mixed them, and that the Romans’ description of this was misinterpreted. That was how my high school Greek teacher explained it, although she was doing graduate work at the time and may have had a particular axe to grind.

Well, I don’t know about the Greeks, but the Egyptians had blue much earlier than 323 BC. Look at King Tutenkamen’s headress that has blue. So I imagine the Greeks had blue, but just called it black.

It wasnt a matter of not seeing the colors or for that matter even a choice by the artists. Pigments were hard to find and very expensive.

They did mix their pigments but were pretty limited on the quality longevity, and pallets they were able to create.