page top

Letter from GEORGE PERKINS MARSH to HIRAM POWERS, dated July 25, 1853.

Add to bookbag Add to Bookbag | Bookbag (0)

Item Description

Title: Letter from GEORGE PERKINS MARSH to HIRAM POWERS, dated July 25, 1853.


  • Marsh, George Perkins, 1801-1882


  • Powers, Hiram, 1805-1873

Source Document

Extent: 1 letter

Genre(s): letter



Note [Digital Version]

, Center for Digital Initiatives, University of Vermont Libraries

Type of Resource: text

Parent Collections

Other Formats

Access Conditions

For usage rights related to this resource please visit:
More information.

Permanent Link:

Preferred citation

Letter from GEORGE PERKINS MARSH to HIRAM POWERS, dated July 25, 1853., Part of the Hiram Powers and Powers Family Papers, microfilmed by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institute, and loaned by the Cincinnati Historical Society., (accessed January 17, 2018)

Letter from GEORGE PERKINS MARSH to HIRAM POWERS, dated July 25, 1853.

Transcribed by : Ellen Mazur Thomson and Ralph H. Orth

TEI mark-up by : James P. Tranowski andEllen Mazur Thomson

Published by: University of Vermont. All rights reserved.

Publication Information

Constantinople, July 25, 1853

Dear Powers

The question you suggest respecting the extent to which the ancients coloured their statuary, is difficult to answer, partly from the want of precise notices on the subject in ancient authors, & partly from the fact that in the long period through which Grecian art flourished, there is every reason to believe that the practice varied. That they, in the best period executed and admired sculpture in the precious metals, ivory and other particularly brilliant materials, and that in cameos they availed themselves of the natural varieties of colour in the stone or shell, is well known and there are several ancient statues both of bronze and marble, with evident traces of both gilding and colour. In architecture, colour was largely applied and its remains are every where traceable in the purely decorative parts of the architecture of the Parthenon, the Temple of Theseus -------------------------------- Page -------------------------------- and other Greek remains. The Egyptians too, the probable masters of the Greeks in art, coloured every thing. These facts would lead one to infer, that the use of colour in sculpture was pretty general, but independent of these, we have the direct testimony of Pliny, that Praxiteles ascribed a great part of the effect of his best works to the colouring applied by Nicias.

We know also, both from Plutarch & Plato, that statues were coloured in their times, not with one general tone, but with the appropriate local tints. Pliny says the statue of Jupiter in the Capitol was coloured with minium, but whether fairly red, or reduced to a carnation, he does not say.

On the other hand, according to Lucian, the Cnidian Venus of Praxiteles, and some other celebrated statues, were not coloured, though they may have been varnished in encaustic, a practice we have reason to believe nearly universal.

After all, we cannot tell how far an approach to absolute -------------------------------- Page -------------------------------- imitation was arrived, and experiment alone can determine to what extent it ought to be arrived at in modern art. I have little confidence in the traditional artistic theories of the Italian schools & believe less in the supposed established rules of harmony in colour than in any other of their doctrines. In fact, a residence of a few years in the East will completely overthrow any man's preconceived notions on the subject of colour, & he will be pretty likely to conclude that nature is a safe guide in this as well as in many other matters belonging to the domain of art. The Egyptians seem to have used colour in art rather conventionally, & perhaps as a mere decoration, & some ancient critics complain of the exuberance and misapplication of colour in sculpture & architecture in the decaying period of those arts.

Your judgment of George is both kind & just. I trust he will do well, but like other badly 'brought up' boys, he has much to learn -------------------------------- Page -------------------------------- and to unlearn.

You are right about the tables. 'Tis little but humbug. The fact you state that the table will only turn with the hand is decisive. Faraday is more charitable than I am. I have seen no case where I did not think there was a rogue in the play. I have not tried your own experiment, but will.

I think we shall have no war. England will submit, & advise Turkey to submit, to any humiliation & France will hardly fight the battle alone.

I hope to send you some books & pamphlets by the Levant, which will sail in a few days for the coast of Italy. I shall forward them through Mr Binda, whom, by the way, we liked much.

Mrs Marsh & my niece join in kind salutations to you all, as well as to Kellogg, Gould, & other friends.

Very truly yours

G P Marsh
Mr H. Powers

Add a comment:


* Optional

User Comments