This is Caesar Augustus.
He was the first official emperor of the Roman Empire.
And if you’ve ever had to study Roman history,
You might be familiar with this little sculpture’s very famous original.
It’s called the “Augustus of Prima Porta.”
It was carved in the 1st century AD,
during his reign as emperor.
Then it was lost to time,
before it was dug up in the 1860s.
Today it lives in the Vatican Museums,
alongside a bunch of other famous sculptures.
But Augustus? He’s not supposed to look like this.
He’s supposed to look like this.
Let’s get this out of the way:
Ancient Greece and Rome were really colorful.
Their buildings were full of intricate frescoes and elaborate mosaics
and covered with vibrantly painted statues
Of things like epic battles, glimmering gods, and pretty flowers.
诸如史诗战争 闪闪发光的神明 还有鲜艳的花朵
But today, most of us picture something more like this
– brilliant white marble as far as the eye can see.
We’re wrong. But it’s not our fault.
It’s Hollywood’s fault
And our high school textbooks’ fault.
But most of all, it’s this guy’s fault.
Well, not him. He’s just a statue.
哦不 不是说他 他只是一座雕塑
The blame lies with Michelangelo, the guy who sculpted him
– And with many others
who made white marble statues during the Renaissance.
When European artists, philosophers, and scientists
当时 欧洲的艺术家 哲学家和科学家们
developed a renewed interest in the creations of classical Greece and Rome.
Artists like Michelangelo
began studying Roman sculptures
– like this one: “Laocoön and his Sons.”
They fell in love with its lifelike figures,
dramatic scene, and pristine, white surface.
But sculptures like this weren’t meant to be white.
Their paint had just faded
after being buried or left out in the open air for hundreds of years.
So when the Renaissance artists set out to imitate them,
they left their masterpieces bare too.
And that style took over inspiring generations of sculptors.
White marble became the norm.
Along the way, art historians reinforced this bias.
Namely this guy – Johann Joachim Winckelmann
He’s sometimes known as the father of Art history.
In the 18th century,
he wrote a hugely influential book on ancient art.
In it he argued that statues like this one
– the Apollo of Belvedere – were the epitome of beauty.
Because, “the whiter the body is, the more beautiful it is.”
He went out of his way to ignore obvious evidence of colored marble,
And there was a lot of it,
especially after the re-discovery of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii in the 1700s.
Pompeii’s near perfectly preserved frescoes,
featured all sorts of colored statues.
And one particular mural
of an artist in the act of painting a sculpture.
This colorful sculpture was also found in Pompeii.
Winckelmann claimed it was too primitive
to have been made by them.
But evidence wasn’t just ignored.
Some of it might have been destroyed.
When archaeologists rediscovered him in the 1860s,
they said his tunic was crimson,
his armor was yellow,
and his “mantle” (that’s this thing) was purple.
And this is him now.
It’s unclear if Augustus lost his color by accident,
as a result of over-cleaning,
or if it was removed on purpose.
But either way,
the same thing happened to a bunch of other famous monuments and sculptures.
Like the Parthenon in Athens
– which once looked something like this.
By the 18th century, it had faded to something more like this,
到了18世纪 颜色逐渐消退 变成了这样
with just hints of color left.
But today, even those are gone.
Luckily, art historians have since shifted to believe
that it’s not about what people think looks better.
It’s about what’s accurate.
But how do they get from this to this?
To start, there are some surviving ancient descriptions of more famous sculptures,
which is how we know that
the Parthenon once held a statue of the goddess Athena
that was “ivory and gold”
wearing a helmet adorned with “a likeness of the sphynx”
And If you look closely at some sculptures,
there are still obvious traces of color
like the remnants of deep purple on this statue’s clothing.
That’s how early reconstructions like these were made.
Today, scientists can extract and test those tiny samples
to determine the original pigments used.
But when there aren’t any visible colors,
they have another tool: Ultraviolet light.
Certain pigments glow under UV light,
exposing traces that would have been otherwise invisible.
When scientists photographed this archer’s legs under UV light,
They saw this: a dizzying array of geometric patterns and saturated colors.
And when they compared it to trace pigments on a similar statue,
they were able to make this reconstruction.
Which, to be clear, is about as ancient as mine
Because conservationists never add color to the original
– they use 3D scanners to create plaster replicas.
Which they then painstakingly repaint,
with far greater accuracy than I can.
Seeing these sculptures in full color
might be a little shocking at first
But that’s probably because
we’ve only seen them one way for centuries.
To the Greeks and Romans,
painting a sculpture made it complete.
Color could make marble seem human, or godlike.
It infused them with drama and emotion.
It brought history and mythology to life
And even though these reconstructions aren’t perfect,
Seeing these statues in color
can bring us a little closer to understanding
what the ancient world might have looked like.
This is Caesar Augustus.