When you think of ancient Greek and Roman statues you probably think of white marble figures, perhaps with a few missing limbs.
But a new exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York aims to show what ancient sculptures originally looked like.
“Chroma: Ancient Sculpture in Color” features painted, colorful reconstructions of Greek and Roman artworks and “reveals the colorful backstory of polychromy — meaning ‘many colors,’ in Greek,” according to the museum’s website.
The exhibit includes 17 color reconstructions that can be viewed alongside similar artworks spanning from the early Bronze Age to the second century, per NPR.
By interspersing the reconstructions with actual ancient Greek and Roman sculptures, the exhibit allows visitors to compare bright, patterned versions to the muted, white ones.
Alongside original Greek and Roman works of similar subjects are reconstructions of sculptures in color by Prof. Dr. V. Brinkmann and Dr. U. Koch-Brinkmann of the @liebieghaus, as well as a new reconstruction of The Met’s Archaic-period Sphinx finial, completed with The Met. pic.twitter.com/cKgPEv4BlN— The Metropolitan Museum of Art (@metmuseum) July 6, 2022
“For some, it will be a shock,” said Max Hollein, director of The Met, according to NPR. “But one has to understand that our current, whitewashed idea of Greek and Roman antiquity is wrong. It’s false.”
The lead curator of The Met’s Greek and Roman Art department, Seán Hemingway, told Hyperallergic, “White supremacists have latched onto this idea of white sculpture.”
“There are people like that who make their own argument out of what they want to believe. And then there’s all this evidence that shows that sculptures were brightly painted, but they’re often not very well preserved,” Hemingway said.
From a Sphinx to an Ancient Greek archer, many types of reconstructions were made to portray what the original coloring of the statues could have looked like.
Vinzenz Brinkmann, head of antiquities at the Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung in Frankfurt, and his wife, archeologist Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann, used science — including technical photography and spectroscopic techniques — as well as art history to determine what colors to paint the reconstructions, according to Hyperallergic.
The “Chroma” exhibit will be on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until March 26, 2023.