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polychromy, architectural, Greek and Roman  

Stephan Zink

The polychromy of Greek and Etrusco-Roman architecture comprises the chromatic effects and surface treatments of exterior façades and roofs, as well as interior floors, walls, and ceilings. Colour and/or contrasts of light and shadow are the basis for all architectural ornamentation. The practice is characterized by a large variety of materials and techniques, which draw from different genres of the visual arts such as stone, plaster and stucco working, toreutics, tessellation, sculpture, panel painting, terracotta, and glass making. The treatment of architectural surfaces is thus intimately connected to changes in both construction knowledge and building economies, while their visual effects depend on changing architectural forms and designs. Both texts and archaeological remains underline the importance of colour and material as an integral part of ancient architectural design; they play a key role for the sensory and atmospheric experience of architecture and could influence its symbolic meaning.Despite strong regional traditions and a general lack of standardization, a few overall developments can be pinpointed: a triple colour scheme of dark (black, blue), light (white, cream), and red hues dominated both Archaic Greek and Etrusco-Italic architectural polychromy; its chromatic polarity became fundamental for the Greek Doric order and, as a basic combination, it remained a recurring motif of architectural surfaces into the Roman Imperial periods. During the Greek Classical period, green, yellow, and increasingly, gilding joined the basic colour palette. Late Classical/Hellenistic innovations included illusionistic painting techniques, intermediality (the imitation of one material by means of another), as well as the increase of light and shadow effects. While variation (Greek poikilia) of both colours and materials was a guiding principle, it seems that there were also occasional reductions of polychrome accentuations on exteriors.

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polychromy, sculptural, Greek and Roman  

Jan Stubbe Østergaard

The term “polychromy” has been in use since the early 19th century to denote the presence of any element of colour in Greek and Roman sculpture. The evidence for such polychromy is literary, epigraphical, archaeological, and archeometric; research on the subject therefore requires collaboration between the humanities, conservation science, and natural science. Such research should go hand in hand with the investigation of the polychromy of Greek and Roman architecture, since it is symbiotically related to sculpture, technically as well as visually.

Knowledge of Greek and Roman sculptural polychromy is still very uneven. Scholars have focused on stone sculpture, and most research has been directed towards the Archaic, Early Classical, Hellenistic, and Imperial Roman periods. For terracottas, the Hellenistic period has enjoyed the most research, while investigation of the polychromy of bronze sculpture has only recently begun.

The scientific research methodology applied concerns the materials and techniques employed. The main colouring agents are paints, metals, and coloured marbles. Pigments are based on inorganic and organic materials applied with proteins, wax, or plant gums as binding media. Metals used are bronze, copper, silver, and gold. A range of coloured marbles came into use in the Roman Imperial period, but in all periods, assorted materials such as semi-precious stones and metals were used for inlaid details and attached objects like jewelry and weapons.