According to an essay penned by a University of Iowa professor, seeing white-marble sculpture “continues to influence white supremacist ideas,” and it’s a shame that this is “often ignored.
The essay, titled “Why We Need to Start Seeing the Classical World in Color,” has a sub-headline that declares that “the equation of white marble with beauty is not an inherent truth of the universe; it’s a dangerous construct that continues to influence white supremacist ideas today.”
The author, a classics professor named Sarah E. Bond, explains that even though “most museums and art history textbooks contain a predominantly neon white display of skin tone when it comes to classical statues and sarcophagi,” “many of the statues, reliefs, and sarcophagi created in the ancient Western world were in fact painted,” with marble being “considered a canvas, not the finished product for sculpture.”
“The exalting of white (and unpainted) marble was then an 18th century construct of beauty rather than the representative of the classical view,” Bond further explained in an e-mail to Campus Reform.
“One of the most influential art historians of the era was Johann Joachim Winckelmann. He produced two volumes recounting the history of ancient art, Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums (1764), which were widely read and came to form a foundation for the modern field of art history,” Bond writes in her essay. “These books celebrate the whiteness of classical statuary and cast the Apollo of the Belvedere — a Roman marble copy of a Hellenistic bronze original — as the quintessence of beauty.”
Now, all of that is interesting enough. I certainly can admit that I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about classical sculpture (sorry), and, sure, it’s a good thing to know that a lot of it was painted. Where Bond loses me, however, is her assertion that a common misconception about the colors of ancient sculptures “has an impact on the way we view the antique world” and that that “impact” is the spread of enduring white-supremacist views.
‘It may have taken just one classical statue to influence the false construction of race.’ — Sarah E. Bond
But Bond disagrees. In fact, she states that “it may have taken just one classical statue to influence the false construction of race” — to make people actually think that everyone in the Mediterranean was white and/or that it’s better to be white — and that although she is “not suggesting that we go, with a bucket in hand, and attempt to repaint every white marble statue across the country,” there should be “better museum signage, the presentation of 3D reconstructions alongside originals, and the use of computerized light projections can help produce a contextual framework for understanding classical sculpture as it truly was.” That should, presumably, work to diminish all of that racism.