“What shimmering silks, what fancy, glittering marbles, what opulent bronzes and golds… Let’s have done with it… It is time to crusade for whitewash and Diogenes.” Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier was not speaking of the ancient world, but he would no doubt have been disappointed by its colourful splendour all the same. We have long since disabused ourselves of the notion that the ancient world was pristine white. We know sculptures were bedecked in vibrant colours, buildings embellished with many-hued details, interior walls painted in a kaleidoscopic manner, and the people themselves draped in vivid fabrics. Colour in the ancient world held theoretic and societal importance.
Pliny the Elder writes extensively about colour in his Natural History, its sources, production, and uses. A paint shop in Pompeii had no fewer than 29 different pigments on offer and the frescoes that have survived to us in Pompeii, Herculaneum and the surrounding Vesuvian countryside have given us a glimpse of the extraordinary wall paintings which must have adorned private homes and public spaces throughout the Roman world.