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Beauty and Art

    Artist Francesco Vezzoli Shows us What the Ancient Romans Looked Like With Their Makeup On

    January 13, 2015
    True Colors (A Marble Relief Head of a Goddess), c.1st century A.D.-2014. Francesco Vessoli

    True Colors (A Marble Relief Head of a Goddess), c.1st century A.D.-2014. Francesco Vessoli

    It’s easy to imagine the ancients in monochrome. Their classic architecture and statuary give us pure white marbles to project upon.

    But what of the people themselves? The stories of ancient Rome are far too colorful to reconcile with the silent, stoic figures we see in museums.

    Archaeologists have long contended that the statues were painted – particles of pigment have been fond on many statues – but no one really knows how they were painted.

    Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli has teamed up with archaeologists, conservators, and polychrome (painted sculpture) specialists to re-paint five of these Roman busts – to show us an idea of what they might have looked like almost two thousand years ago:

    True Colors (A Marble Head of the Resting Satyr), c.1st century A.D.-2014. Francesco Vessoli

    True Colors (A Marble Head of the Resting Satyr), c.1st century A.D.-2014. Francesco Vessoli

    The ancients with their makeup on? At first it’s a garish shock – we’re so used to seeing these images of faded ancients. And projecting our ideals of the ancient world’s purity onto them. Indeed, one of the guards at MOMA PS 1, where the busts are on display until March 8,2015, pronounced them “hideous”. And it’s not just contemporary art critics who aren’t sure if we like our Romans in full color: the same guard told me a visiting archaeologist told him that British aristocracy traveling through Rome on their Grand Tours preferred their marble souvenirs without pigment remnants – leading to who-knows-how-many scrubbed down statues!

    Seeing these sculptures in full color makes them more real – whether we like it or not. Close up, the painted statues are more garish and theatrical than we’re used to. And the makeup artists in the room wonder: “Did they really paint the eyebrows like this?”

    True Colors (A Marble Head of the Resting Satyr - closeup), c.1st century A.D.-2014. Francesco Vessoli

    True Colors (A Marble Head of the Resting Satyr – closeup), c.1st century A.D.-2014. Francesco Vessoli

    We won’t really know – there isn’t enough surviving evidence. And it’s worth putting the Western art world’s chromophobia aside to enjoy the busts for what they are: a dream of the past – in color.

    Francesco Vezzoli: Teatro Romano, at MOMA PS1 until March 8, 2015.

  • Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl at Work in their Studio

    Aroma M Atelier Visit with Maria McElroy & Alexis Karl

    So often we think of creativity as a solitary endeavor – the artist toiling away in private, jealously guarding the secrets to her vision. But for Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl, sharing space to…

    September 16, 2014
  • Orange Crush. Marilyn Minter, 2009. Enamel on metal, 108 x 180 inches.

    Marilyn Minter’s Subversive Beauty

      What would happen if you ate all your makeup – and it was laced with LSD? What if piling on the trappings of glamour and beauty could give you an ice cream headache?…

    March 4, 2014
  • Detail of Madame X. John Singer Sargent, 1884.

    Painted Ladies: Madame X

      To us in the 21st century, masterworks in painting convey a classicism and elegance that seem nonexistent in the modern world. But in the case of Madame X, the scandal caused by John…

    January 21, 2014
  • Cosmetic Box of the Cupbearer Kemeni. Egypt, ca. 1814–1805 B.C.

    Vanities: Art of the Dressing Table

    Let’s face it: we humans love to dress up. Long before we were using metal tools, we were painting our faces and bodies, combing and dressing our hair, and deciding which necklace goes with…

    January 7, 2014
  • Thérèse Le Prat

    Faces: Thérèse Le Prat

    As a makeup artist, I love faces – that goes without saying. But I don’t just love a pretty face with makeup on it – there are interesting faces everywhere, and all kinds of…

    April 2, 2013
  • Cindy Sherman: Untitled, 2008

    Makeup as Performance: Cindy Sherman

    Do we create our own identities, or are they created for us? In the age of seemingly infinite aesthetic choices (including surgery), are our physical identities truly fluid, or are they dependent on the…

    May 16, 2012