Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte | 2019
White in Medieval Sculpture Polychromy – Iconography, Reception, Restoration
Already in 1995, Jürgen Michler pointed out that monochromy did exist in both medieval art and medieval polychrome sculpture, but does not appear in pure ‘classicist’ form. Consequently, the term ‘monochromy’ may be applied to some medieval sculpture where partial coloring is confined to specific parts of sculpture – mainly faces, borders and linings. In fact, the medieval artist’s sense of color, to which the inherent whiteness of the material in sculptures made from alabaster, ivory, or white marble appealed, favored the application of selected color that would augment the white material’s aesthetic appearance by partially contrasting it with gold and deep colors, such as blue or red. Additionally, in polychromed sculpture, the color spectrum of white was explored and thoughtfully applied, as can be demonstrated by the subtle usage of the various tonalities and hues of white placed side by side. However, the art theory of the Renaissance and Classicism, which disregarded any polychromy on sculpture, has led to a misunderstanding of the typical medieval usage of the different hues of white’s delicate shades. This ideal of pure material, pure monochromy, and pure whiteness has left its mark well into the restoration and conservation campaigns of the 20 century by influencing the evaluation and the consequential treatment of actual existing paint layers on sculpture.