Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Exhibition: Bunte Götter. Die Farbigkeit antiker Skulptur. (Liebieghaus Skulptur Sammlung - Frankfurt)

Last night I attended the opening night reception for a new exhibition at the Liebieghaus Skulptur Museum in Frankfurt on "Bunte Götter. Die Farbigkeit antiker Skulptur" (Gods in Color: Painted Sculpure of Classical Antiquity). I am fortunate to have a colleague who works with the museum and who was able to get invitations to the reception for some of us at the university; as a part-time guide for the museum, she was also kind enough to explain some of exhibits to us in detail.

The exhibition (from 8 October 2008 to 15 February 2009) highlights recent research on the painting and coloring of ancient sculptures, particularly marbles and terracottas. For the past few decades it has been widely understood in academic circles that temples, statues, and architectural terracottas were brightly painted, often using just a few bold and contrasting primary colors such as red, blue, and yellow. In recent years, various chemical and light tests have allowed researchers to reconstruct painted models of specific examples in great detail. The exhibition in Frankfurt contains both some of these reconstructed models and original pieces where traces of coloring remain. One of the most famous pieces in this exhibition in Frankfurt is the bust of Caligula from the NY Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen. The bust itself has some faint remnants of paint on it, especially around the left eye where one can see remains of eyelashes that were painted onto in antiquity. The bust is accompanied by two painted models in the present exhibit .

This exhibition first opened in Munich in 2003 and then traveled later to Hamburg, the Sackler Museum at Harvard, and is now presently in Frankfurt. Each exhibit and model has not been moved to every location and so, for example, there are some things that were shown in Munich and Hamburg that are not being shown in Frankfurt. On the other hand, there has been some further research conducted since 2003 and some new models are on display.

I was tempted to purchase the lavishly illustrated exhibition catalogue for Frankfurt (€35,60), but decided against it after I realized the content of the catalogue varied from the one I have seen for the exhibition in Munich, which I remember had a good article on both the reconstruction of the Augustus of Prima Porta (not on exhibition in Frankfurt) and the Caligula bust. It appears each exhibition catalogue is tailored to each individual exhibition, though the Harvard catalogue and the Frankfurt catalogue seem rather similar. A catalogue was also produced for the exhibition in Hamburg; the Harvard exhibition catalogue is the only one to have been written in English, under the title Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture in Classical Antiquity. The Harvard exhibition catalogue is being sold by Liebieghaus Museum for the same price as the Frankfurt catalogue. It looks like anyone interested in obtaining the exhibition catalogues from either Munich or Hamburg will have to do some searching on the Internet.
If you come through Frankfurt before February 15, 2009, I highly recommend a visit to this stunning exhibition. It really jars that almost innate Victorian perception we have of ancient Greek and Roman cities wrought of pure gleaming white marble! If you cannot make it to the exhibition, the exhibition catalogues are great and I recommend picking one up. I have used the Munich catalogue from the University of Missouri library before as a teaching aid for my art history survey students, but I think I will begin searching for one of the Munich catalogues to purchase myself (simply because of the longer discussion of the Augustus of Prima Porta). Nevertheless, any of the catalogues would provide a great overview of research methods and detailed photographs of the reconstructions and originals.
(Photo: A painted reconstruction of the Caligula bust from NY Carlsberg Glyptotek on display at the Liebieghaus Skulptur Sammlung in Frankfurt. Image from http://www.liebieghaus.de)