How the myth of whiteness in classical sculpture was created – DW – 01/24/2023

The colors on most ancient statues had faded by the time they were initially excavated, so it was assumed they had always been colorless. But even as new knowledge emerged, the truth was intentionally withheld from the public to fit with the ideals of society, Brinkmann explained.

For example, the statue “Laocoön and his Sons,” found in Rome in 1503, had colors that were “deliberately looked over,” said Brinkmann, adding that the traces of color were often attributed to “barbarians.”

…In the 20th century, fascism appropriated the idea of white figures of antiquity as a symbol of white superiority. Both Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler particularly praised the art and architecture of ancient Greece and Rome, and the idea of white classical statues was useful in the conceptualization of racial superiority. For the Nazis, this meant aligning the visual image of the mythical Aryan race with Greek statues, for instance by featuring men with finely sculpted torsos.

The wide-ranging colors used in ancient Greek statues are thought to have been related to various categorical concepts — an idea that the Acropolis Museum explored in its exhibition “Archaic Colors.”

Blonde hair, typically featured on Greek Gods, warriors and athletes, symbolized power. A gray skin tone symbolized virtue and bravery, while the white skin of figures of young women “proclaimed grace and glow of youth,” according to the museum’s description.

Color in ancient Greek art was also often likely used to show gender: Men were depicted as having darker skin tones, as they customarily worked outdoors, while women were often painted white, since the ideal was to stay indoors and out of the sun.

Source: How the myth of whiteness in classical sculpture was created – DW – 01/24/2023