Olympian Jupiter. Winckelmann and Quatremère de Quincy on Ancient Polychromy
A number of Western museums may boast of their important collections of Classical Greek and Roman art. Marble statues of deities or heroes from Classical Antiquity, and important works in painting and architecture from different historical epochs, have traditionally made up the canon of Western art. In recent years, critics have claimed that this tradition represents an idealisation of the white, Caucasian body type which excludes other races from the concept of beauty. Although we today know that ancient statues in marble were often painted in vivid colours, they say that art theorists have either been ignorant of, or glossed over, this fact. While the German art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann has often been regarded as a proponent of our Western predilection for whiteness, the French archaeologist Antoine Chrysostome Quatremère de Quincy is by many celebrated as the first to realise the extent and importance of ancient polychromy. In this paper, I will try to show that this is a distorted view, especially where Winckelmann’s theories are concerned. Far from being ignorant about ancient polychromy, Winckelmann was an important source for Quatremère de Quincy. In addition, Winckelmann’s appreciation of the white marble surface was not the result of racial prejudice, but the expression of an aesthetic opinion that he shared with Quatremère de Quincy.