Hauntings: Original Greek statues were brightly painted

Original Greek statues were brightly painted, but after thousands of years, those paints have worn away.
Find out how shining a light on the statues can be all that’s required to see them as they were thousands of years ago.

Although it seems impossible to think that anything could be left to discover after thousands of years of wind, sun, sand, and art students, finding the long lost patterns on a piece of ancient Greek sculpture can be as easy as shining a lamp on it. A technique called ‘raking light’ has been used to analyze art for a long time. A lamp is positioned carefully enough that the path of the light is almost parallel to the surface of the object. When used on paintings, this makes brushstrokes, grit, and dust obvious. On statues, the effect is more subtle. Brush-strokes are impossible to see, but because different paints wear off at different rates, the stone is raised in some places – protected from erosion by its cap of paint – and lowered in others. Elaborate patterns become visible.

Ultraviolet is also used to discern patterns. UV light makes many organic compounds fluoresce. Art dealers use UV lights to check if art has been touched up, since older paints have a lot of organic compounds and modern paints have relatively little. On ancient Greek statues, tiny fragments of pigment still left on the surface glow bright, illuminating more detailed patterns.

Once the pattern is mapped, there is still the problem of figuring out which paint colors to use. A series of dark blues will create a very different effect than gold and pink. Even if enough pigment is left over so that the naked eye can make out a color, a few thousand years can really change a statue’s complexion. There’s no reason to think that color seen today would be anything like the hues the statues were originally painted.

There is a way around this dilemma. The colors may fade over time, but the original materials – plant and animal-derived pigments, crushed stones or shells – still look the same today as they did thousands of years ago. This can also be discovered using light.

Infrared and X-ray spectroscopy can help researchers understand what the paints are made of, and how they looked all that time ago. Spectroscopy relies on the fact that atoms are picky when it comes to what kind of incoming energy they absorb. Certain materials will only accept certain wavelengths of light. Everything else they reflect. Spectroscopes send out a variety of wavelengths, like scouts into a foreign land. Inevitably, a few of these scouts do not come back. By noting which wavelengths are absorbed, scientists can determine what materials the substance is made of. Infrared helps determine organic compounds. X-rays, because of their higher energy level, don’t stop for anything less than the heavier elements, like rocks and minerals. Together, researchers can determine approximately what color a millennia-old statue was painted.

From article by Esther Inglis-Arkell

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Material Bodies: Studies of the Nude

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The work in this section is selected from a series of Izzi Ramsay’s projects. The photographs here all belong to larger groups which she has exhibited throughout the UK. The whole is a complex and provocative body of work, comprising both male and female nudes, produced over a number of years. It seeks both to raise and to challenge doubts about visual explorations of the male and female form, and attempts to subvert conventional presumptions about the nude by disrupting audience’s suppositions.
The portrayal of the male nude is imbued with a touch of both wit and fetishism and helps to distract us from the assumptions which customarily attach to female representations. An androgynous treatment of the body generates a sense of morphing from male to female, which is incongruous and disturbs our perceptions.
Predominant representations of the female nude carry assumptions of youth, health and vitality: they subscribe to a fixed and limited preconception of beauty, and they covertly define and promote an ideal. Here the invisibility of the used and aged body is addressed through the pleasures and sensuality of the ‘non-ideal’. Large scale close-ups of the body are constructed as landscapes, employing fragmentation and condensation to create a more abstract form. They offer a view of the body which is both gargantuan in proportion and delicate in its sensitivity of treatment with the gentle play of light and shadow on the female form.
Masks are used on both the male nude (The Horseman) and the female nude (Lupine Woman). Here again a sense of morphing — now from human to animal — is produced. The photographs in the Morphe collection play with the idea of animal/human, and are a response to, though by no means a comment upon, recent controversial rulings of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to allow the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos.
Narrative texts, which were written anonymously by the subjects in the photographs, form an integral part of the work. These were displayed alongside the photographs when the work was on exhibition. Their purpose is to disrupt and recontext¬ualise perceptions of the nude — to re-present a socio-historical identity in the body; this creates a dynamic interaction between the audience, image and text. Extracts from these narratives are reproduced at the back of the book.

The printing process is important to the reception and understanding of the work. The photographic papers used have certain anomalies and imperfections, which, when treated with chemicals, react to give the work a textured and grainy surface. This reaction results in prints whose outcomes are indeterminate and can never be reproduced exactly. Consequently each print is unique. This process, which has been incorporated into the makeup of the body of work as a whole and informs the present reproductions, creates an affect that complements the imperfections of the human body.

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Material Bodies: Narrative text 4

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Dearest Jane,
It’s been hard reaching you by phone so I thought I’d drop you a note. Hope all goes well – it’s hard to have to work so many hours just to survive.
Everything much as usual here – bit chaotic, too much work/activity not enough time to relax and play. One interesting thing. I agreed to be photographed naked by a friend – Izzi – I’ve known her – not long really – a few months. We do have background in common and we did the same photography course tho’ at different times. This made me think about what it meant to be on the other side of the camera, the power relations – to be living out all that theory, be good to discuss this sometime.
Being photographed like that made me think – inevitably – about my body – how it is, how it used to
be, what the changes mean, what it will become. It also made me think of you when you were born, how big I was, the mad rush to hospital, how 2 hours later, the neighbours coming in, Ruth with her polaroid – I’m glad you’ve got copies of all those photos.
All that skin – yours, mine, & how this experience has made me think of my skin in a different way – not on the beach, or in the bath, or with R, but in someone’s house, who I haven’t known well – a kind of premature intimacy. Something about the moment of taking my clothes off, the moment of revelation. It makes me think of how doctors leave the room when you undress for an examination even though they’ll see you unclothed a minute later. It’s not being naked, so much as the change from one state to another.
Enough – hope your cold’s better

Very much love, J xx

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Material Bodies: Narrative text 1

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My body has given me a great deal of pleasure, and, hopefully, it has given a great deal of pleasure to others in one way or another.

My relationship with my body has changed over the course of my life. As a child I remember the exhilaration of having a supple, agile body and wanting to run and swim and climb trees but not really conscious of my body unless I hurt myself.

In my adolescent years I truly became aware of my body. The pleasure was in discovering. Sex being the main discovery, and the main pleasure. But I also remember the awkwardness of those adolescent years. Times when I wanted literally to leave my body I felt so uncomfortable in it, so self-conscious with many difficult emotions to deal with.

In my twenties I felt more confident in my body but still found the need to fill it with substitutes; alcohol and drugs on a regular basis. Nevertheless my body continued to give me pleasure despite the punishment I was giving it.

In my late twenties my body almost gave up under such punishment and for the first time I was ashamed of it. I had to develop a new relationship with it to survive – to learn to respect it and enjoy it again. This was like trying to repair a marriage gone wrong.

The effort was immense. To learn to love my body again despite its refusal to do what I wanted it to. At times I hated it but eventually I did what my body needed and discovered it was by far the easiest way.

After a few years I had grown to love my clean, fit body again. But as well as loving it for the pleasure it gave me I also loved it in a more ‘body conscious’ way. I became more conscious of my appearance, my clothes, my shape & weight. Paradoxically, but not surprisingly, this lead to a further unhealthy relationship with my body, more alcohol, more drugs, more punishment.

I and my body survived this destructive period too but this time with more wisdom.

Despite, or because of, the natural aging process I now feel more comfortable in my body than I ever have before. I am less agile, less supple, less trim and firm but have more acceptance. I try to give my body what it needs.

My body is still capable of giving me, and others hopefully, great pleasure, despite the punishment I’ve inflicted on it over the years. Now I am more concerned about how well it works rather than how good it looks.

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