Polychromy in Antiquity

30 January 2020 to 26 September 2021

For many years, the polychromy of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture has been captivating the public worldwide. Some three million visitors have experienced the GODS IN COLOR firsthand in museums worldwide.

The Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung presented a major expanded exhibition allowing a nuanced look at the disconcerting phenomenon of statuary polychromy. “GODS IN COLOR—GOLDEN EDITION: Polychromy in Antiquity” featured more than 100 objects from international museum collections and the holdings of the Liebieghaus, which encompass 60 recent reconstructions but also some dating from the nineteenth century, along with 22 prints.

Since the exhibition GODS IN COLOR was first on view in Frankfurt in 2008, the number of reconstructions carried out by the research team has doubled, and new aspects have come under consideration, for example the polychromy of ancient bronzes.

Most recent findings on the polychromy of ancient sculpture

Originally, the painted decoration of an antique sculpture not only enhanced its appearance from the aesthetic point of view and increased its lifelike impression, but also provided the ancient viewer with important information about the identity of the figure depicted. Over the past decade, research has focused increasingly on this aspect. In the process, new interpretation proposals have been developed not only in the context of large-scale Greek bronzes, but also for numerous marble sculptures. In the ancient world of the eastern Mediterranean region, the use of color was par for the course. For the Greeks and Romans, however, the painting of sculpture was far more than superficial decoration. Rather, polychromy had means of its own for expanding the formal and narrative structure of the artwork. It was only through the dimension of color that artists achieved the desired vibrancy of expression.

Polychromy research at the Liebieghaus

Curator: Prof. Dr. Vinzenz Brinkmann (Head of the Department of Antiquity, Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung)

Sponsored by: Kulturfonds Frankfurt RheinMain
With additional support from: Georg und Franziska Speyer’sche Hochschulstiftung, FAZIT-STIFTUNG, German Federal Ministry for Education and Research within the framework of the research project “The University Collection as a Living Archive: Teaching and Research between the Poles of Materiality and Mediality” with the Goethe University Frankfurt

Media partners: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Verkehrsgesellschaft Frankfurt am Main mbH, ARTE
Cultural partner: hr2-kultur


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Gods in Color on tour

The successful Liebieghaus show has meanwhile been touring the world for many years and delighted more than three million visitors. Each venue presents further reconstructions—along with new insights into ancient polychromy—and brings the once brightly coloured look of antiquity’s sculptures back to life. A suspenseful journey with no end in sight.

    Overview of all exhibition venues

    Gallo-Roman Museum in Tongeren, Belgium (October 2023 to June 2024)
    The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA (July 2022 to March 2023)
    Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung, Frankfurt on the Main (January 2020 to September 2021)
    Legion of Honor, San Francisco, USA (October 2017 to January 2018)
    Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, Mexico (October 2016 to January 2017)
    The British Museum, London, Great Britain (March to June 2015)
    Ashmolean Museum, Cast Collection, Oxford, Great Britain (January to June 2015)
    Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, Denmark (September to December 2014)
    Museum der Universität Tübingen, Schloss Hohentübingen, Germany (April to August 2014)
    Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria (November 2012 to March 2013)
    Art collections of Ruhr University Bochum, Bochum, Germany (June to October 2012)
    Winckelmann-Museum, Stendal, Germany (December 2011 to April 2012)
    Heidelberg University, Institute for Classical Archaeology/University Collections, Heidelberg, Germany (October 2011 to May 2012)
    University of Göttingen, Department of Archaeology/University Collections, Göttingen, Germany (March to July 2011)
    Medelhavsmuseet, Stockholm, Sweden (October 2010 to January 2011)
    Pergamon Museum, Berlin State Museums, Berlin, Germany (July to October 2010)
    Museo Arqueológico Regional de la comunidad de Madrid, Spain (December 2009 to April 2010)
    Museum Palace Wilhelmshöhe Collection of Antiques, Kassel, Germany (March to June 2009)
    Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung, Frankfurt on the Main (October 2008 to February 2009)
    Museum für Abgüsse Klassischer Bildwerke, Munich, Germany (June to August 2008)
    The Getty Villa, Malibu (Los Angeles), USA (March to June 2008)
    Harvard Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Havard University, Cambridge (Massachusetts), USA (September 2007 to January 2008)
    Museum of Arts and Crafts, Hamburg, Germany (April to July 2007)
    Istanbul Archaeology Museum, Istanbul, Turkey (April to July 2006)
    National Archaeological Museum, Athen, Greece (January to March 2006)
    Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (August to November 2005)
    Antikenmuseum und Sammlung Ludwig, Basel, Switzerland (August to November 2005)
    Vatican Museums, Rome, Italy (November 2004 to January 2005)
    Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, Denmark (March to May 2004)
    Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek, Munich, Germany (December 2003 to February 2004)