On 16th of August, the BBC News website sported a video with the title: ‘Chromophobia:
The greatest conspiracy in ancient art’, in which is explained that the general and traditional idea that sculpture of Greek/Roman Antiquity was whitish, is wrong - both sculpture and architecture was brightly coloured, which gives a very different aesthetic impression:
But the video is incomplete and misleading. The impression is given that the idea of whitish sculpture is a prejudice and resistence to evidence, and that tastemakers suppressed the idea of colouring of Antiquity for being vulgar.
The reason of the whiteness of Renaissance sculpture
was, that recovered / dug out antique sculpture was predominantly white, so
whiteness became symbol of the sublime authenticity of Antiquity which became
the example to be followed, emulated, and transcended. Also in architecture. As
the video correctly says: colour had withered away over time. The Renaissance
artists and intellectuals did not have any strong evidence that antique
sculpture was coloured. So this was not a bias, prejudice, or way of
suppressing colour in sculpture and architecture.
The image of antique art as whitish was symbolic of
purity, and being elevated above the ‘vulgarity’ of popular and Italian
medieval taste. It had nothing to do with Renaissance preference of designo
over colour as the video claims, or a protest against the church (Michelangelo's sculptures of bibilical figures like David, Moses and Christ are in white marble). There was a discussion among painters and arty
intellectuals about what was more important, designo or colour, in painting,
but this had nothing to do with the colour question of architecture and
sculpture of Antiquity which were, after all, unanimously accepted and
understood as whitish – simply because that is the condition in which antique
works were dug-out, and how antique ruins looked, withered by time.
For that reason, and that reason alone, the
Renaissance image of Antiquity was whitish.
The video projects a contemporary narrative of
oppression and liberation (woke) upon the evidence of antique sculpture being
coloured. But the whiteness was simply an aesthetic question related to an
ideal, and not a political one of oppression, it was simply a widespread
consensus, which in itself inspired sculpture and architecture since the
For instance, the title: ‘The greatest conspiracy in
ancient art’, suggests that the ‘prejudice’ of antique whiteness was an attempt
to suppress the idea that antique sculpture was coloured. There never was a
conspiracy, and this very idea is a conspiracy theory in itself. Any later
indications that antique sculpture was probably coloured was indeed received
with incredulity: how could such ancient, sublime art be so ‘vulgar’? It
contradicted the ideal of Antiquity as it developed since the 15th
century deep into the 19th. And indeed an argument can be made that those
colours were quite garish, vulgar, childish and primitive, like colourings and
tatoos of primitive tribes living in jungles: underdeveloped aesthetics.
Meanwhile, in the 20th century, bright colours have reestablished
themselves in the art world, but that is an aesthetics different from the
idealized Renaissance idea which was only challenged in the last century when
such idealized aesthetics were considered elitist, academic, etc. So,
resistance against historic evidence of antique colouring was a matter of
aesthetics mixed with symbolism, and not a conspiracy. It is the contemporary
woke obsession with social justice and suppression which interprets historic evidence entirely
Any serious art historian dealing with the ideas of
Antiquity in the Renaissance would confirm all of the above.
Again a video on the BBC website, with lots of confusion, celebrating the suppression narrative again, with the most conspicuous mistake of taking modernism (in the visual arts and architcture) into account, as being on the same plane as 18C aesthetics, totally ignoring the fundamental break of 20C 'avantgarde' movements with any aesthetics from the past:
Especially serious is, again, the misinterpretation of white sculpture by Michelangelo as a protest against Christianity. The lack of knowledge of Renaissance culture is staggering. The ridiculous extension of the imagined controversy of whiteness contra colour to later symbolic architecture like the White House and St Paul's cathedral as if this has been dominating Western civilisation all along, clearly aims at paying lipservice to the woke movement which searches past and present for signals of social injustice, taking everything literally and projecting narrow prejudice on anything which can be used as supporting its claims.
With real social injustice this has nothing to do, and merely creates a layer of confusion over the real social problems which haunt Western societies.
Interesting is the title, which serves as a projection of context: 'Who stole the colour...' - this is supposed to indicate that there is a 'group', an 'enemy', who wants to suppress 'colour'. Referring to political symbols, this is a 'dog whistle' to suggest society is under threat by 'them', wanting to suppress anything that could be related to the notion of 'colour'. Message is clear: politicizing of culture, exactly like what the nazis did and the soviets, in the last, very dark century.