Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Film adds "technicolor" to Parthenon Marbles

The Elgin Marbles in the British Museum are marvellous - but they're a bit, well, colourless, aren't they?

That isn't how it was for the ancient Greeks. The sculptures were painted in vivid colour. High up on the sides of the Parthenon temple in Athens, they had to be.

Now a new film on permanent show in the room next to the Marbles adds the colour - and the fear and the violence.

"When we started to apply the colour it brought a lot of the emotion to life," says Dyfri Williams, Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum.

The film reconstructs one of the metopes - the 92 carved fight scenes that ran around the outside wall - using computer technology.

The restored metope is part of this process. The project began with three-dimensional laser scanning of the metope in the BM, and of casts of the two Copenhagen heads, by the National Museums Conservation centre in Liverpool and fitting the images together.

More can be added from a drawing done by the Frenchman Jacques Carrey in 1674. But still a lot of details are entirely lost.

Dyfri Williams's department developed a story board for the film, which Mark Timson of the British Museum's New Media Unit translated into a series of computer-generated models.

Drawings of the missing pieces were developed based on other metopes in the museum.

Fixing-holes in the sculptures show that metal pieces were once included - for this metope, a headband and sword for the boy were added.

The 3-D scanning enabled some things about the carving to be understood which had been a mystery before, says Mri Williams.

Centaur's head before and after reconstruction (pics: Danish National Museum; British Museum)
Centaur's head in Copenhagen and (right) after reconstruction

Since the scanning, some ridges of the youth's thigh are now thought to mark the folds of his cloak. The museum now thinks the cloak was finished off in plaster, probably after some accident in the carving of the marble.