The New Acropolis Museum launches an exhibition on Archaic Colours

31072012photo1From the 31st July and for a year, the New Acropolis Museum will be hosting an exhibit on Archaic colours. This new exhibit will constitute an interactive activity and the motivation behind it is not only to highlight the use of colour but also the significance of the colours used. There are a number of different opinions regarding the colours found on the statues in the Archaic gallery and as such the museum felt it necessary to express their own opinion given that it houses the best collection of archaic statues withpartial preservation of their original colours.

This exhibit is the result of extensive research into the archaic colours. New technologies (such as spectrographic analysis and special photography) have been used in an effort to reproduce these colours onto white marble. To achieve as accurate a reproduction as possible the museum archeologists also relied on reproductions such as Swiss painter Louis Emile Gillieron’s reproduction of the Three-bodied Daemon.


This reproduction was made in 1887, only a year after the discovery of the original statue. When comparing the original against Gillieron’s reproduction we notice that there are some differences in the colours. The beard of the original statue appears black whereas in the reproduction we notice the colour used is blue. In other parts of the reproduction it is evident that two different shades of blue were used, indicating that in the archaic period both Egyptian blue and azurite were used.

 From a private collection donated to the museum containing original stones from which pigments were made.

From a private collection donated to the museum containing original stones from which pigments were made.

The director of the New Acropolis Museum, Professor Pandermalis explained that it is most interesting to witness an artist’s autopsy of a work of art from a time when the work of art itself was discovered. The director went on to explain that through the research conducted it was determined that the main colours used were red, dark and light blue, black and ochre. The colour green can also be observed on certain surviving sculptures, however, it is not clear whether originally these areas were pigments created with azurite blue which with the passing of time through oxidization turned into malachite.

Professor Pandermalis touched on Plato’s belief that art mimics nature and went on to explain that the use of colour by the artists of the archaic period was not only decorative but also a tool to surpass nature. Indeed when the eyes of the Kore statues are coloured they look vivid and alive.

Below are some of the exhibits along with replicas of coloured segments of the statues indicating the original colour in those areas.

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Peplos Kore, possibly Artemis, Acr. 679
Her hair is colored red (originally, there might have been a brown layer applied over the red pigment). Her irises and lips are the same color, while her pupils, eyelids, and brows might have been accentuated in black.
Kore, Acr. 680
The meander and the small crosses were colored with Egyptian blue
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Chios Kore, Acr. 675
The red color was cinnabar. The blue was Egyptian blue
Kore, Acr. 682
For the decorative motif of the chiton azurite (dark blue) was used in the double volute and Egyptian blue in the leaves.
Kore, Acr. 684
The earring was decorated with hematite (brown-red) and Egyptian blue. The stephane on her hair was decorated with Egyptian blue, conichalcite (dark green) and malachite (green).

31072012photo9As part of the exhibition talks on the Archaic colours with rich visual materials will be held at the museum daily at 12 pm in English and at 1:00 pm in Greek. To engage children’s interest and to help them understand the exhibit,  a special backpack will be available at reception which will include a number of games as well as colouring pencils to give them the opportunity to colour the Peplos Kore.

For those not able to visit the museum an online game is also available which gives children the opportunity to colour the Peplos Kore with colours of their choice. The game is available here

The promotional video for the exhibition illustrates two pigments processed from solid form to dust and then liquid:


In 2014 an exhibition will be held at the British Museum on ancient sculptural polychromy with the participation of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek and the participation of Professor Pandermalis, Director of the New Acropolis Museum.


Useful links

English Press Release by the New Acropolis Museum


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