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02/12/2019 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

The Archaeology of Colors

Polychromy and Classical Chinese Bronze Art

Allison Miller

Researchers of Hellenistic art have long recognized that many statues that now appear as works of pure white marble were originally polychrome. In early Chinese art, in contrast, the hallowed works of China's classical antiquity—the bronzes—are generally believed to have been unpainted. After all, why would artisans paint over an expensive bronze surface? In recent years, however, many varieties of bronzes have been uncovered with colorful ornamentation including sacrificial vessels, figural sculptures, mirrors, lamps, weapons, and personal ornaments. Using this data, this talk will survey China's polychrome bronze tradition from the Shang to the Han (1600 BCE-220 CE), considering the diverse functions assumed by painted ornamentation and identifying two major transitions in polychrome bronze art in the 5th c. BCE and the mid-2nd century BCE. Special attention will be paid to technical aspects of painting craft in early China, particularly the development of new binding agents in the Western Han.
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