Polychrome Sculpture


The word “polychrome” derives from the Greek “polu-” (meaning many) and “khrōma” (color). Polychrome sculpture, fittingly, is originally associated with Ancient Greece and Rome, and describes all manners of pigmented decoration, gilding, and the application of varied color to a three-dimensional surface. The mostly unadorned, white marble sculptures that were unearthed from archaeological sites in the 16th century—and which later shaped the aesthetic of neoclassicism—belied the fact that these works were once decorated with a wide variety of colors. Thanks to scientific advances in the study of pigments and other aspects of conservation, art historians have been able to authenticate the former coloration of countless historic objects, a process that has radically changed our assumptions about the history of taste. Common examples of polychromy include decorated Christian altarpieces or the convincing realism of Renaissance-era German limewood sculptures. Polychrome sculpture was later revived in the neoclassical period of the 18th century, and applies to modern and contemporary works like the multicolored mobiles of Alexander Calder or the contemporary, wood-carved figures of Stephan Balkenhol.

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