News flash: Roman art not crude

No big surprise: when they finally found a classical bust that still had its paint on, they noticed something:

It had … been assumed that classical statues were painted brightly. In fact, the colouring on the head is a delicate shade of orange-red, which, although faded, indicates that classical colouring was subtle and sophisticated.

In other words, they discovered that when it came to art the Romans weren’t idiots. Some people believe in the Secrets of the Pyramids. Others, including most scholars, are apparently convinced that people in the past didn’t know anything, at least not anything not immediately visible in what we have that remains.

The scholarly view makes as little sense as the National Enquirer view. The basic principle in interpreting the past and present should be that they weren’t so dumb then, and we aren’t so smart now. Anything else is provincialism. People don’t accept that, so the weirdest things get written and actually believed: the ancient Greeks, who knew far more about art than we ever will, painted their statues garishly, the pre-Revolutionary French, who knew something about pleasure, mismatched foods and wines, European men used to treat their children as property and wives as chattels, etc., etc., etc.

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