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Ancient Greece in a Blaze of Dazzling Color in New Met Exhibition

Ancient Greece color
Reconstruction of ancient works in color. Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ancient Greece and its astonishing artifacts are presented in their true color in a new exhibition that opened earlier in July at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

“Chroma: Ancient Sculpture in Color” reveals the colorful backstory of polychromy—meaning “many colors” in Greek—and presents new discoveries of surviving ancient colors on artworks in The Met’s world-class collection.

Exploring the artistic practices and materials used in ancient polychromy, the exhibition highlights cutting-edge scientific methods used to identify ancient color and examines how color helped convey meaning in antiquity as well as how ancient polychromy has been viewed and understood in later periods.

Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Met, said, “This innovative exhibition will activate The Met’s displays of ancient Greek and Roman art like never before by displaying colorful reconstructions of ancient sculptures throughout the galleries.”

“It is truly an exhibition that brings history to life through rigorous research and scientific investigation, and presents new information about works that have long been in The Met collection,” he said.

The exhibition features a series of reconstructions of ancient sculptures in color by Prof. Dr. V. Brinkmann, Head of the Department of Antiquity at the Liebieghaus Sculpture Collection, and Dr. U. Koch-Brinkmann and introduces a new reconstruction of The Met’s Archaic-period Sphinx finial, created by The Liebieghaus team in collaboration with The Met.

Color reconstructions of works from Ancient Greece and Rome

Presented alongside original Greek and Roman works representing similar subjects, the reconstructions are the result of a wide array of analytical investigations, including 3D imaging and art historical research.

Polychromy is a significant area of study for The Met, and the museum has a long history of investigating, preserving, and presenting manifestations of original color on ancient statuary.

Displayed throughout the museum’s Greek and Roman galleries, the exhibition explores four main themes: the discovery and identification of color and other surface treatments on ancient works of art; the reconstruction and interpretation of polychromy on ancient Greek and Roman sculpture; the role of polychromy in conveying meaning within Greek and Roman contexts; and the reception of polychromy in later periods.

Chroma emphasizes the extensive presence and role of polychromy in ancient Mediterranean sculpture, both broadly and across media, geographies, and time periods from Cycladic idols of the third millennium B.C. to Imperial Roman portraiture of the second century, as witnessed throughout the museum’s collection and illustrated with forty artworks in the permanent galleries on the first floor of the museum.

Fourteen reconstructions of Greek and Roman sculpture by Dr. Brinkmann and his team highlight advanced scientific techniques used to identify original surface treatments. These full-size physical reconstructions will be juxtaposed with comparable original works of art throughout The Met’s Greek and Roman Art Galleries, provoking visitors to rethink how the Greek and Roman sculptures originally looked in antiquity.

In conjunction with the exhibition, a two-day symposium will be held at The Met in March 2023, assembling an international group of scholars and including Met curators, conservators, and scientists to discuss a wide range of subjects related to the polychromy of ancient sculpture. Proceedings of the symposium will be published by The Met.

The symposium and the accompanying publication are made possible by Mary Jaharis.

Related: Ancient Greek Masterpieces Were Painted in Dazzling Colors

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