Wednesday, March 27, 2013


, Die Artemis von Pompeji und die Entdeckung der Farbigkeit griechischer Plastik. Katalog einer Ausstellung im Winckelmann-Museum vom 2. Dezember 2011 bis 18. März 2012. Ruhpolding; Wiesbaden: Verlag Franz Philipp Rutzen; Harrassowitz Verlag, 2011. Pp. 96. ISBN 9783447066648. €28.00.

Reviewed by Clarissa Blume, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

It is stunning how easily a short written passage, separated from its context, can make its way through academia representing an opinion the original author did not intend. This is what happened to a citation from Winckelmann, the father of archaeological research, who has long been thought to have believed in the white surface of ancient marble sculptures. In 1764 he published the first edition of his work Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums in which he stated:

Colour contributes to beauty, but it is not beauty itself, though it generally enhances beauty and its forms. Since white is the colour that reflects the most rays of light, and thus is most easily perceived, a beautiful body will be all the more beautiful the whiter it is, and nude it will thereby appear larger than it actually is, just as all newly formed gypsum figures seem larger than the statues from which they were cast.1

After decades of Winckelmann being misunderstood on this point, a new focus on his judgment of ancient sculptures has brought to light that he did indeed hold the view that ancient Greek sculptures had been painted and that he had even corroborated this thesis with examples in the round. One of these examples was an Archaistic statuette of Artemis from Pompeii which still exhibits ample remnants of its original polychromy (Naples National Archaeological Museum IN 6008).

This statuette was the centre-piece of the exhibition "Die Artemis von Pompeji und die Entdeckung der Farbigkeit griechischer Plastik" in the Winckelmann Museum in Stendal on view from December 2011 to March 2012. The exhibition catalogue is the work under review in this contribution.

It was the aim of the exhibition and of the catalogue to demonstrate that Winckelmann himself was a researcher keen to gather new observations and always open to changing his mind and ideas. The catalogue underlines how over the course of time Winckelmann came to recognise that the Pompeian Artemis was a key source of evidence that Greek and Roman sculptures were painted.

The book's subject is made clear in the introduction by Max Kunze, President of the Winckelmann Society, and further developed in the main essay of the publication by Oliver Primavesi. The latter has carried out in-depth research using 18th-century sources in order to discover when Winckelmann first learned about the Pompeian Artemis and how over the years his judgment shifted in regard to its cultural background and, with that, its painted appearance. His essay on the results is framed by a chapter by Vinzenz Brinkmann on the research history of ancient polychromy and on reconstructing polychrome sculptures and by a chapter (by Vinzenz Brinkmann, Ulrike Koch- Brinkmann and Heinrich Piening) on the polychromy of the Artemis itself. They critically question Winckelmann's statements about its colouring and widen the spectrum of results by examining the sculpture using up-to-date methods. Of interest is the resulting reconstruction of the Artemis as an empiric trial of how the statue might have originally looked (p. 68, fig. 39). The catalogue of objects on display in the Stendal exhibition comes at the end of the book.

The first chapter by Brinkmann is a good introduction; it offers a glimpse at the development of research on ancient polychromy, methods of examination, and the changes in the way polychromy has been reconstructed over time.

With "A paradox", the first subtitle of the second chapter, Primavesi is referring to the fact that even by the 20th century many archaeologists still took it for granted that Winckelmann had denied the existence of paint on Greek and Roman sculptures. As made clear by his study, however, this opinion, which was indeed true at the beginning of Winckelmann's explorations, changed over the course of time as he studied ancient statuary. This change is revealed by his comments on the Pompeian Artemis over the years.

The Artemis was found in Pompeii in 1760. In 1762, Winckelmann had the chance to view the sculpture at the Royal Museum of Portici. In publications up until 1764, Winckelmann claimed the Artemis with her polychrome traces to be a piece of Etruscan art (Sendschreiben von den Herculanischen Entdeckungen, 1762, and Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums, 1764). Later on, he changed his attribution and declared it to be of Greek origin, as evident in the second edition of his Geschichte. Yet, this new edition (published in 1776) was not finished by Winckelmann himself, but by Friedrich Justus Riedel years after Winckelmann's death in 1768 and still included Winckelmann's outdated opinions, as pointed out by Primavesi. Thus, Chapter I.3 of Riedel's edition mentions Winckelmann's new attribution of the Artemis to Greek origin while his previous attribution is also recorded in Chapter I.4.

That Winckelmann indeed expected Greek sculptures to have been painted is underlined by his referring to Plato, who uses painted sculptures as comparanda for the ideal state (Republic IV, 420c-d; Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums, 1776, chapter I.4, p. 588). Moreover, Winckelmann's latest judgment of the Artemis as an example of Greek polychromy is made clear from notes which he had left in Rome before his final journey to Germany. This clearest evidence of his opinion had not been published until 2008. The confusion caused by the discrepancy between Winckelmann's publications as well as by the lack of publication of his notes, clarifies how the misunderstanding of Winckelmann's opinion arose.2

Moreover, Primavesi is able to sort out the misunderstanding of two of Winckelmann's passages that have often been taken as evidence of his view that ancient marble sculptures had been white. One of them is the statement on white bodies cited above. Primavesi stresses that Winckelmann meant to discuss the body itself (regardless of any coloration), that he did not speak of sculptures but of bodies in general, and that he did not contrast the white body with a body in colour, but simply with a body in black. Further, Primavesi stresses that Winckelmann himself said that "colour […] heightens beauty and its forms".

Through a careful study of the history of the discourse on the Pompeian Artemis and her original setting, Primavesi provides a significant insight into the contact and exchange among archaeological scholars in the 18th and 19th century. He is, for instance, able to reconstruct that Winckelmann must have only seen the original site of the Artemis after it had been filled with earth, so he must have produced an image by combining the architectural pieces of her shrine in the museum with reports from witnesses of the excavation. Winckelmann's description was based on vague facts which have since been proven wrong. Primavesi does not even exclude that Winckelmann was purposely misled by Camillo Paderni, the curator of the museum in Portici, since the latter and other contemporaries seem to have wanted to hinder Winckelmann's work.

In the final chapter, Vinzenz Brinkmann, Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann and Heinrich Piening publish their new examinations of the statue carried out according to current standards. One of their most important results is that its skirt and mantle were coated with a white base (kaolin and white lead). This finding is of significance since it proves that white sections of a sculpture could have been coated instead of having the marble original marble surface exposed.

Since red was found on the sleeves of the dress, the authors conclude that the garment consisted of a (red) blouse and a separate (white) skirt. They support their supposition with Archaic comparanda. However, while two colours in one garment might be theoretically possible, more images of Artemis' garment or a sketch showing the exact areas of the colour traces would have helped to follow and support the authors' contention. Moreover, a full-page image of the original sculpture next to the reconstruction would have been valuable to this discussion.

Of further interest is the authors' finding of solely yellow ochre in the hair. Since interpretation of the findings is too briefly treated in the chapter, it should be added here that the yellow ground seems to this reviewer to have been either the base for further shading of the blond hair with other colours or a base for gilding (even though neither other colours nor gold were detected).3

The analyses carried out by Brinkmann and collaborators showed that a broad range of pigments and colorants were used. Thus the authors are able to show anew that a careful differentiation among colour shades was made.

On this basis, the authors created a reconstruction of the Artemis showing the colours detected on the original.

Since the Pompeian Artemis imitates the Archaic style, the authors suggest that the statue might have been patterned after the late Archaic sculptures from Aegina. Though a more comprehensive study could possibly show closer comparanda from other sources, in general it is reasonable to wonder to what extent the Artemis was copied from Archaic originals and whether it was created as a Roman object aiming to look Archaic. As the authors state, the polychromy of the Artemis does not closely imitate Archaic polychromy but was influenced by contemporary (late- Hellenistic and Roman) practices, as attested, for instance, in the extensive use of Egyptian blue and madder.4

All in all, Primavesi's thorough analysis of Winckelmann's own development with regard to ancient polychromy based on one key sculpture he had studied and commented on, is an interesting and significant study that contributes to our knowledge of the history of archaeological research. Nevertheless, his presentation in some regards becomes nearly redundant. Timelines of both of the historic events concerning the Pompeian Artemis as well as the course of Winckelmann's publications would have been useful. Since the publication is a relatively short companion to the exhibition, the interpretation of the polychrome analyses of the Pompeian Artemis is kept brief; therefore, a further treatise on the Pompeian Artemis by the authors is strongly desired.

Despite the suggestions mentioned, the catalogue is striking because of a focus on an interesting question, a significant sculpture examined through generations, and an excellent combination of a historic study and empirical examinations. Moreover, the volume fascinates through a great number of images of historic documents, colour remains and comparanda all of which are of high quality and of great value to this field of research.

Table of Contents

Worwort, Max Kunze, 7
Die Farben Antiker Marmorskulptur, Vinzenz Brinkmann, 9
Das Lächeln der Artemis, Wincklemanns Entdeckung der Farbigkeit griechischer Skulptur, Oliver Primavesi, 17
Alte Gewänder in Neuem Look, Beobachtungen zu den Farben der pompejanischen Artemis, Vinzenz Brinkmann, Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann, Heinrich Piening, 69
Katalog, Vinzenz Brinkmann, 87


1.   Translation by H. F. Malgrave: J. J. Winckelmann, History of the Art of Antiquity (Los Angeles 2006) 195. Original: J. J. Winckelmann, Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums (Dresden 1764) 147-148.
2.   A. H. Borbein – M. Kunze (ed.), Johann Joachim Winckelmann: Anmerkungen über die Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums. Dresden, 1967, Schriften und Nachlass 4, 4 (Mainz 2008) 159.
3.   Ochre is well known as a base for gilded areas. See, for example, C. Blume, Die Polychromie hellenistischer Skulptur (forthcoming) or B. Bourgeois – P. Jockey, 'La Dorure des Marbres Grecs. Nouvelle Enquête sur la Sculpture Hellénistique de Délos.' JSAV, 2005, 253-316.
4.   In contrast, the polychromy of a Classicising Pergamene sculpture followed Classical customs, though the ornamentation is clearly adapted by the Hellenistic painter: Berlin, Antikensammlung, AvP VII 23. See: C. Blume, Die Polychromie hellenistischer Skulptur (forthcoming).

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