In the summer of 2000, Vinzenz Brinkmann of the Glyptothek in Munich suggested that the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek and the Musei Vaticani might collaborate with his institution on a travelling exhibition dealing with ancient sculptural polychromy. It was intended to communicate the results of the seminal work done by Brinkmann since about 1980. Experimental archaeological reconstructions based on research data and executed by his wife Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann were to play a major part.
The exhibition opened in the Glyptothek in 2003, with the title ‘Bunte Götter. Die Farbigkeit antiker Skulptur’. In the spring of 2004, it was shown in the Glyptotek in Copenhagen, as ‘ClassiColor. Farven i antik skulptur’. Later the same year it opened at the Musei Vaticani, changing title to ‘Il colore del bianco’. The ‘Bunte Götter’ has since been presented at many other venues with considerable success.
The Copenhagen Polychromy Network, CPN
In Copenhagen, the exhibition was also well-received. A section devoted to the vital part played by conservation science and natural sciences attracted the interest of colleagues in those fields. By the spring of 2005, an interdisciplinary network focusing on ancient sculptural polychromy had come into being: the CPN, an interdisciplinary research partnership involving the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, the School of Conservation, the Institute of Chemistry at the Technical University of Denmark, and the Museum of Geology.
The CPN pilot project, 2005–2007/8
We decided to test the network’s capabilities through a pilot project focusing on the collection of Greek and Roman marble sculpture. In the selection of works for investigation, the criteria were above all the potential for acquiring good primary data and the degree to which the pieces were representative of the collection.
At the time, an Attic late classical marble funerary lekythos (IN 2564) and our portrait of Caligula (IN 2687) had been closely examined. We therefore turned to other classes of sculpture: an original Attic female head from around 420 BCE (IN 2830), an original Late Hellenistic colossal head of Zeus/Jupiter from Italy (IN 1664), and a 2nd century CE Roman ideal head of Asclepios (IN 2619).
Fortunately, we were in luck: working across disciplinary boundaries was inspiring, and exciting discoveries were made. The way was paved for a more concerted effort.
‘Tracking Colour’ 2008/9-2013
In 2008, the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek decided to embark for the first time on a research project of several years duration. Entitled ‘Tracking Colour. The polychromy of Greek and Roman sculpture in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek’, it was to be a continuation of the CPN’s pilot project. A full-time position as research curator and two half-time positions as project conservators were allotted. Furthermore, a PhD studentship in classical archaeology was allotted.
‘Transformations – Classical Sculpture in Colour’
In the autumn 2014 was an international exhibition at the Glyptotek entitled ‘Transformations – Classical Sculpture in Colour’. An exhibition catalogue in English is available on the webshop of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.
The catalogue includes articles by a number of leading scholars in the field, which provide an overview of, and an insight into the fascinating polychromy of Greek and Roman sculpture.
‘Transmission and Transformation. Ancient Polychromy in an Architectural Context’ 2014-2017
In 2013 The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek received a large grant from the Carlsberg Foundation to continue its research into ancient polychromy, this time with a focus on ancient architecture. The project was led by classical archaeologist Cecilie Brøns. Furthermore, full-time positions for a conservator and a geo-chemist was allotted.
‘Sensing the Ancient World: The Multiple Dimensions of Ancient Art’ 2018-2021
The Carlsberg Foundation has generously funded a new interdisciplinary research project entitled Sensing the Ancient World: The Multiple Dimensions of Ancient Art. The project is being led by Dr. Cecilie Brøns and will run until 2021. In collaboration with Danish and international partners, the project is undertaking thorough investigations of the polychromy of ancient artworks using multispectral techniques and different natural scientific analyses. In addition, the project includes further, often invisible dimensions of ancient art such as the effect of light and the embellishment with textiles, ornaments, and flowers. By including the often inaccessible dimensions of antiquity, the research project aims to achieve a new, more inclusive, holistic understanding of the art of antiquity, starting in the collections of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.
For more information about the project, please click here