The greatest conspiracy in ancient art

“Art historians and archaeologists have solid proof that ancient Greek and Roman artworks were brightly painted,” says Matt Wilson in this video exploring the roots of Western prejudices against colour. Chroma, a new exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, explores our technicolour heritage – and the roots of a bias that runs deep in art history. It’s based on research by Professor Vinzenz Brinkmann and Dr Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann, leaders in the field of ancient polychromy studies who have revealed ancient colour designs using UV light, creating reconstructions of how Greek and Roman sculpture would have originally appeared.

Yet they’ve met criticism along the way. “Those guardians of good taste… intellectual people – they can’t manage it – the clash is too hard,” says Professor Brinkmann. It’s a trend that the artist David Batchelor highlighted in his book Chromophobia. “The more I read, the more I notice this pattern of resistance to colour; this tendency to treat colour as other, as feminine, oriental, primitive, infantile or kitsch or cosmetic,” he says.

In the video, Wilson finds out why we don’t value colour, questioning a centuries-old misunderstanding. As Chroma’s curator Sarah Lepinski tells him: “It’s important that audiences come to understand the way they see ancient Greek and Roman sculpture isn’t the way it was first created.”

Video by Paul Ivan Harris

Produced by Fiona Macdonald

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