Two of the three goddesses from the east pediment of the Parthenon – A2 Research

The Parthenon characterises the Classical period in Greek art and I was lucky enough to see the sculptures from it during my British Museum Visit. This blogpost is some research these sculptures for my second annotation for assignment 2.

“Pediments are the triangular spaces formed by the pitch of the roof of a Greek temple, one at either end of the building. They were often filled with sculpture representing mythological subjects. The triangular frame of the pediment presented a challenge to the designers of the sculpture placed within. There was a danger that figures at the centre would appear as giants compared with those that occupied the corners. This discrepancy in scale was lessened by allowing figures towards the corners to sit, and right in the corners, to recline. ” (Google Cultural Institute, 2016c)

Three goddesses were seated along the right hand side of the east pediment, witnessing the birth of Athena from Zeus (in the centre now lost). The furthest two are pictured here. One languishing in the other ones arms, their posture was designed accommodate the slope of the architectural mouldings that framed the pediment. The reason I picked these figures from all that I saw in the Parthenon sculptures gallery is that these are thought to be Aphrodite and her mother Dione. I wanted to compare Greek Aphrodite with Roman (Lely’s) Venus. Although this is the assertion that I’m going with, it is interesting to note that another conjecture on who these two figures could represent ranges from Thalassa, Personification of the Sea, in the lap of Gaia, Mother Earth or The Fates.

This group is so remarkable, despite losing their heads and arms, for their ‘complex drapery’.

“The garments of the Parthenon statues are carved in ridges and deep furrows, which catch the light and hold the shade. No cloth naturally rumples in this way. The effect is entirely artificial. These gossamer-like draperies must have given the pediments a shimmering vitality and – what was far more important – they relieved, rather than concealed, the forms of the bodies beneath them. In the group ‘The Fates’ the soft fullness of the breasts is emphasized by gently swirling lines, firm roundness of the arms by tight gatherings across them, the robustness of the thighs by the board diagonals of deeper folds.“ p137 WHA

We will never know for certain who these three goddesses were supposed to represent, or whether this reclining figure is really Aphrodite, let us assume for a moment she is. These sculptures were made about a century before the first nude Aphrodite which annotation one (above) is based upon, so that this figure appears clothed (in a manner of speaking) is not a surprise. However, the whole demeanor of the goddess has changed from one representation to the other. The Parthenon goddess is relaxed, draped across the lap of her companion. Her body is twisted to face out of the pediment, emphasizing her curves, but from her posture we can imagine her lounging on a bed in much the same manner. Even without her head you can tell she is sexy and confident within her own skin. Lely’s Venus is a complete contrast. She is trying to cover her nakedness with this pose, and not even in the half-hearted, for-the-censors, one hand type that the first nude Aphrodite employed. In that crouching pose she is using her whole right arm in a very defensive manner.  

In 1674, Jacques Carrey (although that may not have been his actual name) made very detailed  drawings of the Parthenon statues, at that time the reclining figure still had her head. Just 13 years later, a lot of damage was done by a massive explosion when the invading Venetian army pelted the Parthenon with cannonfire because the Turks had hidden their armory inside. In the 1920’s historians used those drawings and other scholarly materials to create a full scale replica of the Parthenon (including the giant Athena statue inside) in Nashville, Tennessee.

 

References

Beard, M. (2010) The Parthenon.Profile Books
 
D’Alleva. (2010) How to Write Art History. (2nd Ed), London, Laurence King Publishing
 
Google Cultural Institute. (2016b) Figures of three goddesses from the east pediment of the Parthenon At: https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/asset-viewer/figures-of-three-goddesses-from-the-east-pediment-of-the-parthenon/DgGSx_YXE8PADw
(Accessed on 7 May 16)
 
Google Cultural Institute. (2016c) At: https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/asset-viewer/figure-thought-to-be-of-dionysos-from-the-east-pediment-of-the-parthenon/XgE6C-9WfO4Dbw
(Accessed on 7 May 16)
 
Metropolitan Government of Nashville. (2016) The Parthenon At: http://www.nashville.gov/Parks-and-Recreation/Parthenon/Learn-and-explore.aspx
(Accessed on 7 May 16)
 
Neils, J & Oakley J. (2003) Coming of Age in Ancient Greece: Images of Childhood from the Classical Past.Yale University Press
 
Travelogues. (2016) Drawing of the eastern pediment of the Parthenon by Jacques Carrey, 1674. At: http://eng.travelogues.gr/item.php?view=32388
(Accessed on 7 May 16)
 

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