February 25, 2006

The original colour of the Parthenon Sculptures

Posted at 5:16 pm in Elgin Marbles

Nowadays more people are aware that originally the Parthenon’s sculptures, as well as possible the building itself were painted bright colours. This knowledge allows us to recreate a completely different visual picture from that of pristine white carvings which is implied by the surviving sculptures today. The notion that the sculptures had originally been just the pure colour of the stone is what led to the notorious cleaning incidents of the sculptures at the British Museum in the 1930s at the request of Lord Duveen.
Fragments of architraves from the Parthenon that were sheltered from the elements show clear signs of the original painting in red & Egyptian blue. New research has recently revealed signs of a green / blue pigment made from malachite-azurite on some of the fragments of the frieze in Athens. Fortunately, these sculptures were never cleaned in the same way as those at the British Museum; otherwise, any evidence of this additional information on the colouring would have been lost forever.

Turkish Daily News

Parthenon sculptures were colored blue, red and green
Saturday, February 25, 2006

Its austere white is on every postcard, but the Athens Parthenon was originally daubed with red, blue and green, the Greek archaeologist supervising conservation work on the 2,400-year-old temple said on Friday.

“A recent cleaning operation by laser revealed traces of hematite [red], Egyptian blue and malachite-azurite [green-blue] on the sculptures of the western frieze,” senior archaeologist Evi Papakonstantinou-Zioti told the Agency France-Presse.

While archaeologists had found traces of the first two colors elsewhere on the temple years ago, the malachite-azurite coloring was only revealed in the latest restoration process, Papakonstantinou-Zioti said.

Given the testimony of ancient writers, it is not unlikely that the Parthenon’s trademark columns were also colored, she added.

Archaeologists have been trying since 1987 to remedy damage wrought on the Parthenon’s marble structure by centuries of weather exposure and decades of smog pollution.

Principal restoration work on the entire Acropolis citadel, which stands in the center of the modern Greek capital, is scheduled to be completed by 2009.

Dedicated to the ancient Greek goddess Athena, patron of the ancient city of Athens, the Parthenon was badly damaged during a Venetian siege of Ottoman forces in 1687.

Much of the temple’s eastern frieze was removed in the early 19th century by agents of Lord Elgin, then British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

Elgin subsequently sold the sculptures to the British Museum in London, where they are still on display, despite persistent efforts by the Greek government to secure their return for the past 20 years.

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  1. Nola Katopothis said,

    06.26.08 at 1:46 am

    I would like an artists rendition of how the Parthenon would have looked in its original colors. Thank you!!! I am an Artist and want to paint the Parthenon like it was in its original paint.
    Thank you!!!
    Nola Katopothis
    I keep sending these that someone out there will help me!!!!

  2. Nola Katopothis said,

    07.25.08 at 12:42 am

    I would like to see an artists interpretation of the colors used on the original Parthenon

  3. Matthew said,

    07.25.08 at 12:52 pm

    There are some images of artistic impressions of it here & here.

  4. Betty said,

    09.24.09 at 12:24 am

    I don’t believe it! I’ve been looking for information on the original colors used by the Ancients, and also curious about how the pigments were produced. Another door, opened.
    Thanks, Matthew!

  5. Betty said,

    09.24.09 at 12:30 am

    The Semper rendering is magnificent!

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