Coloured Idols

Joannes Richter

Fig. 1: West-side of the front at the Aphaia-temple at Aegina
NAMABG-Athena Aphaia-W Pediment colored.JPG Restitution du décor polychrome de statues du fronton Ouest du temple d'Athéna Aphaia à Égine. Vers 490 av. J.-C. Exposition « Bunte Götter » dans la version montrée à Athènes. Etude : Vinzenze Brinkmann et Hermann Pflug. Peinture : Ulrike KochBrinkmann. Original : Munich, Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek. Marsyas 25 February 2007 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

Introduction
The international exhibition Bunte Götter (“Coloured Gods”), organized by the Munich Glyptothek in 2004, and shown in Istanbul in 2006 and in Athens in 2007 presented a great number of reconstructed artworks. A number (26) of these coloured idols have been documented in the Wikimedia Commons in the Category:Bunte Götter exhibition. This article analyses the colouring codes in the overview and cross-references to other works of art. The study restricts the analysis to repetitive patterns, which allows us to identify alternating colouring symbols.

Architecture
Temples
Apart from the idols, which often are multi-coloured, the most striking coloration is the alternating colouring in red and blue of the tympanum in the Temple of Aphaia. A similar coloured tympanum has also been found at the Acropolis temple as reconstructed in the fries at the British Museum.

Fig. 2: Aphaia Trojan archer XI Polychrome small-scale model of the archer XI of the west pediment of the Temple of Aphaia, ca. 505–500 BC. Figures of the pediments of the Temple of Aphaia were found in 1811, and acquired in 1813 by Ludwig I of Bavaria for the Glyptothek. User:Bibi Saint-Pol, own work, 2007-02-08 public domain.

The fries of the Acropolis temple has been coloured in alternating red & blue, although the colours of the swastika-decorations does not seem to be high-lighted.

Fig. 3: Red/blue-colours at the Acropolis temple

own work, British Museum, London

Fig. 4: Red/blue-colours at the Acropolis temple own work, British Museum, London

Ceilings
Medieval ceilings may also be decorated in red & blue. Some examples may be found in the Web.

Fig. 5: The York Minster Chapter House ceiling (1260)
originally posted to Flickr as Chapter House ceiling (crop 1) The York Minster Chapter House ceiling. Michael Wilson from York, United Kingdom Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Wikimedia Commons. The delicate Chapter House, where the day to day business of the Minster was run, was begun in about 1260. The decorative medallion in the center is hand painted with red, blue, green, ivory and gilt. And the central boss, which would have been barely visible from below, is an elaborate, vividly-painted design featuring a lamb and other Christian symbols...

Keystones

Fig.6: Keystone and ceiling at the St. Servaas, Maastricht (Netherlands) own work, July 2010

Porticos
The Roman catholic Basilica of Saint Servatius, situated in Maastricht, The Netherlands, is a Romanesque basilica dedicated to Saint Servatius, a martyr of the fourth century. In the first half of the 13th century the Bergportaal, a portal in early Gothic style, was added to the south side and is perhaps the first Gothic construction in the Netherlands. The portico is a fine example of the combination of red, blue and a minor amount of green, but has been reconstructed 1885 and may deviate from the original. In 1797 the chapter was closed down and the church was used as a horse stable. In 1804 the church became the main parish church of Maastricht. Between 1866 and 1900 the church was restored by the famous Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers. In 1955 a fire caused a church spire to fall through the roof of the church which made another thorough restoration necessary (1982-1992).

Fig. 7: Portico of the Basilica of Saint Servatius, Maastricht own work, July 2010

The main portico of the St. Servaas reveals a couple dressed in traditional red & blue garments, which will be shown in detail.

Fig. 8: Portico of the Basilica of Saint Servatius, Maastricht own work, July 2010

The Queen Mary has been dressed in blue & golden, whereas the Divine King is wearing a red & golden garment. Equivalent to the male, red-coloured sun and the female moon in Egypt, the male symbol is red and the female symbol blue.

Fig. 9: Portico of the Basilica of Saint Servatius, Maastricht own work, July 2010

Fig. 10: Portico of the Basilica of Saint Servatius, Maastricht own work, July 2010

Egyptian artwork
Egyptian artwork often applies combinations of red, blue and green or yellow, as shown in the following Djed-pillar (generally revealing red, blue and green stripes).

Fig. 11: Outer Coffin Tub of HPA Masaharta Outer Coffin Tub of HPA Masaharta 21a Dynasty, Thebes, TT320 Cairo CG61027, JE26195 Niwinski No. 63, Type of lids: II-a gilding
Intellectual property of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, RF: You may use this material for non-commercial purposes. If published in print or on a website, please give a credit to CESRAS.

Other Egyptian artwork often combines red and blue with gold or yellow such as in the following example of the coffin.

Fig. 12: Outer Coffin Tub of HPA Masaharta Outer Coffin Tub of HPA Masaharta 21a Dynasty, Thebes, TT320 Cairo CG61027, JE26195 Niwinski No. 63, Type of lids: II-a gilding
Intellectual property of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, RF: You may use this material for non-commercial purposes. If published in print or on a website, please give a credit to CESRAS.

found at: www.cesras.org/Ding/Coffins/Masaharta01.htm

Egyptian artwork often applies combinations of red, blue and green. Ancient colours may be hard to identify and the use of reconstructed data or high quality photographs will help to avoid errors in identifications.

Fig. 13: Coloured reconstruction for the Coffin of Djedpthajuefanch

Coffin of Djedpthajuefanch 21a-22 Theban Dynasty, 935 BCE Cairo CG61034 Left side of coffin fully restored Due to several camera angles necessary to work around show-case frames, it was impossible to join the photographs 100% exactly. This restoration required 300 hours of intense work. CESRAS Photos by Sergej V. Ivanov, Jan. 2007 Digital processing and text by Edward R. Loring Intellectual property of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, RF: You may use this material for non-commercial purposes. If published in print or on a website, please give a credit to CESRAS. found at: www.cesras.org/Ding/Coffins/Masaharta01.htm

However the solar disc seems to be painted in red with blue wings and a minor area in green.

Fig. 14: Coloured reconstruction for the Coffin of Djedpthajuefanch (detail) Coffin of Djedpthajuefanch 21a-22 Theban Dynasty, 935 BCE Cairo CG61034 Left side of coffin fully restored found at: www.cesras.org/Ding/Coffins/Masaharta01.htm

Swastika – banners
The swastika-decorations at the helmet and girdle apply alternating red and blue colours. The colours for the swastika have been reversed for the helmet (red) and the girdle (blue).

Fig. 15: Aphaia Greek Archer Temple of Aphaia, ca. 505–500 BC. Original : Munich, Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek. NAMABG-Aphaia Greek Archer.JPG Restitution du décor polychrome d'un archer grec provenant du fronton Ouest temple d'Athéna Aphaia à Égine. Vers 490 av. J.-C. Exposition « Bunte Götter » dans la version montrée à Athènes. Etude : Vinzenze Brinkmann. Restauration : Sylvia Kellner et Olaf Herzog. Peinture : Ulrike KochBrinkmann et Sylvia Kellner. Original : Munich, Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek. Photography by Marsyas This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

The swastika has been found in similar decorations, applying red & blue alternating colours, such as the kore.

Fig. 16: Marble Kore Extended Hand

510BC, in the Acropolis Museum, Athena (computer-simulated) colours by Doug Stern

The similarity of decorations may be observed between the kore and the “Aphaia Greek Archer”. Both sculptures have been created between approximately 510BC and 500BC.

Fig. 17: Marble Kore Extended Hand (detail)

Fig. 18: Aphaia Greek Archer (detail)

Decorative elements
Although the decorative pattern is dominated by red & blue we may also identify green and golden / yellow. These patterns will also be found in Egyptian artwork.

Fig. 19: Greek warrior from the Temple of Athena Aphaia to Aegina Reconstruction of polychromic decoration on the head of a Greek warrior from the Temple of Athena Aphaia to Aegina. Around 490 BC. AD Exhibition "Bunte Götter" in the version shown in Athens. Study: Vinzenz Brinkmann. Restoration of the marble copy: Gabriela Tobin. Painting: Sylvia Kellner. Original: Glyptothèque Munich. Photograph by Marsyas 25 February 2007 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

The decorative pattern at the back of the soldier is red, blue and green, embedded in a yellow background

Fig. 20: Trojanic Archer ("Paris") - Temple of Aphaia to Aegina Restitution du décor polychrome d'un archer troyen («Paris») provenant du fronton Ouest temple d'Athéna Aphaia à Égine. Vers 490 av. J.-C. Exposition « Bunte Götter » dans la version montrée à Athènes. Etude : Vinzenze Brinkmann et Hermann Pflug. Peinture : Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann. Arc et flèches : Sylvia Kellner et Ina Kleiß. Boucles de cheveux : Olaf Herzog. Original : Munich, Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek. Photography by Marsyas 25 February 2007 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

Although other sculptures of warriors apply red, blue, yellow and green this is a striking combination of red & blue decorations.

Fig. 21: warrior (an archer ?), from the Acropolis

Cuirassed torso of a warrior (an archer ?), from the Acropolis, ca. 470 BC. NAMABG MA599 Cuirass… Marsyas created 25 February 2007 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

The central decorative pattern of the garments apply the combination of red & blue colours.

Fig. 22: sarcophagus at the royal necropolis of Sidon – battle of Issos Marsyas 25 February 2007 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license. Restitution du décor polychrome du sarcophage dit d'Alexandre, provenant de la nécropole royale de Sidon, représentant la bataille d'Issos. Etude : Vinzenze Brinkmann et Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann. Stéréolithographie : Alphaform, Munich. Restauration des parties manquantes : Joseph Kotti, Sylvia Kellner. Peinture : Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann. Original : Musée national archéologique d'Istanbul. Exposition « Bunte Götter » dans la version montrée à Athènes.

Egyptian art
Compared to the Greek artwork we may consider the Picture of the Nefertiti bust in Neues Museum, Berlin, which applies a combination of red, blue and green.

Fig. 23: Nefertiti bust in Neues Museum, Berlin
Zserghei public domain Wikimedia Commons.

Info from Nefertiti bust: The Nefertiti Bust is a 3300-year-old painted limestone bust of Nefertiti, the Great Royal Wife of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten and is one of the most copied works of ancient Egypt. Due to the bust, Nefertiti has become one of the most famous women from the ancient world as well as an icon of female beauty. It is believed to have been crafted in 1345 BC by the sculptor Thutmose.

Fig. 24: Nefertiti bust in Neues Museum, Berlin
Zserghei public domain Wikimedia Commons.

Conclusion
Modern archaeology allows us to identify the colouring symbols at buildings and sculptures. However ancient colours may be hard to identify and the use of reconstructed data1 or high quality photographs will help to avoid errors in identifications. The Bible (Exodus, 2. Book of Chronicles2) specifies Purple, Red and Blue as divine commands for garments and temple decorations. At the Theban Dynasty period3 Egyptian temples generally reveal decorations in red, blue, green and golden. Egyptian paintings usually apply the colour red for the (male) sun and blue and a minor amount of green for the wings of the solar disc. At 500BC Greek temples apply red and blue (and minor amounts of green) for decorations at the tympanum. Medieval churches prefer colour combinations of red, blue and (minor amounts of) green for ceilings, keystones and portico's. Hellenic garments may be decorated with any colour combinations of red, blue, green and yellow. Greek-Roman garments may either apply purple or red & blue patterns for religious symbols. Medieval garments however apply purple, red & blue for divine or sacred and imperial symbolism. In the Middle Age yellow and green will often be considered as evil4 symbols (to be reserved for evil characters).

Summary
Artists in ancient cultures (Egyptian, Roman, Greek and Hebrew people) seem to have preferred red and blue – colour combinations for decorations, but they used other colours as well. In medieval periods red and blue were the favourite symbols for painting saints and divine persons. Up to the Middle Age there does not seem to be any negative symbolism attributed to the colours yellow and green, which were to be avoided in medieval paintings and sculptures.

1 e.g. the website CESRAS.
2 see specification in Secret Colour Codes in the Bible 3 21a-22 Theban Dynasty, 935 BCE 4 Yellow for Judas and Yellow for Saint Peter

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful