Polychromy in Corinthian Anatomical Votives (15 min)


Grace M. Hermes, Brown University


In the Sanctuary of Asklepios at Corinth, anatomical votives made of painted terracotta were prominently displayed and commanded a strong visual presence within the temple. This study constitutes the first comprehensive examination of the colors represented in the Corinthian anatomical votive assemblage and explores the various uses/meanings of the votive colors. I identified the preserved traces of paint in a sample of 103 votives using a combination of macro photography and 10×/20× hand lenses and recorded the colors according to the Munsell Soil Color Chart system. I propose three possible uses for color within the sample: enhancing the anatomical realism of the votive, representing a health issue according to the colors of the Hippocratic four humors, and imitating precious materials. I also discuss the prevailing theory that the Corinthian votives were painted according to a "conventional" gendered color scheme of red for male body parts and white for female. Ultimately, I argue that the data reveals more varied color use within the sample than just indicating gender, and that there may be multiple concurrent systems of color symbolism. Recognizing this wider range of symbolic meaning for Corinthian anatomical votive colors will allow scholars to better understand what sort of information dedicants sought to communicate through their votive offerings—both to Asklepios and to their community at large.