Colors of Classical Art
The classical tradition as embodied by the arts of ancient Greece and Rome is typically characterized by its idealized forms, naturalism, and interest in the human figure. In the eyes of most viewers today, color plays a limited role in this aesthetic—pristine white marble characterizes temples and statues, and a palette of black and red defines Greek pottery. This perception, however, is inaccurate, and there is increasing evidence that the cities and houses of the Greeks and Romans were once full of color: statues and marble buildings were richly painted, the surfaces of bronze statues and objects were manipulated to vary and modify their colors, and even the black and red pottery traditions were more varied than they first appear. In addition, colorful objects that were made from perishable materials, such as textiles and paintings, survive in very limited quantities.
The use of color influenced the development of both pattern and naturalism in art; it reflected interest in artistic exchange, luxury and status, as well as cultural and religious traditions. A renewed study of the colors of classical art across a wide range of media helps us to understand better the complexities and wonders of the classical world.
This website, which is part of a larger project that also includes a special exhibition and a self-guided tour of the permanent gallery, represents an in-depth collaboration between the Indiana University Art Museum and the Department of the History of Art; it was designed in conjunction with two classes and incorporates the research of both graduate and undergraduate students. Visit the "About" section for more information about this project and for a full list of the contributors.