Hi everyone. Welcome back to the Ancient Art Podcast. I’m your host Lucas Livingston. You may have noticed … or maybe not … that the Ancient Art Podcast is now available on YouTube. Just head on over to youtube.com and search for “Ancient Art Podcast,” or go to ancientartpodcast.org and you’ll see the embedded YouTube video there. You also may have noticed the addition of an iPod-compatible format to the podcast stream. Much to my chagrin, after I finally bit the bullet and purchased a video-capable iPod (relegating my awesome first generation iPod to the drawer), I suddenly discovered, having had no test platform prior to this, that the high-definition Ancient Art Podcast doesn’t play on video iPods. What the heck! So instead of conceding quality to compatibility and downgrading the podcast, I thought it wise to offer both formats—HD and iPod—in the same stream, for your choosing. One looks great on a huge plasma screen, while the other fits nicely in your pocket. And for those listeners with the iPhone or iPod touch, the iPod version is what you’ll want to download directly to your device, not the HD version.
If you listen to MuseCast, the official audio podcast of the Art Institute of Chicago, you may have heard in the November 2008 episode about the grand opening of the Alsdorf Galleries, the new galleries of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic Art. Well, the MuseCast episode gave you a brief audio introduction to the galleries and has a great interview with curator Madhu Ghose, but I’m so excited about this much anticipated installation that I want to talk about it myself … with pictures, no less.
If you’ve been to the Art Institute in the past year or so, you may have noticed that the famed corridor of medieval armor, weapons, and decorative arts has been removed, much to the dismay of rambunctious adolescents and nostalgic gamers. Don’t worry. It’ll be coming back in a different and even better display, but that space, the long corridor that spans the commuter railroad tracks, has undergone an incredible transition from the musty medieval hall to the majestic, colorful, day-lit corridor of South and Southeast Asian treasures. There’s quite a feast of artwork on display here, including some works that may be a little familiar to avid listeners, like the Gandharan Bodhisattva from episode 7 of the Ancient Art Podcast, now exhibited among a number of his Gandharan contemporaries. One remarkable architectural element is the installation of a long set of windows offering a sweeping panorama of the Art Institute’s new Modern Wing, Millennium Park, and the Chicago skyline north of the park. Bright natural light is okay in this gallery, because all the exposed works are statuary made of stone, bronze, or wood, and whatever paint they originally had on them has long since disintegrated. But so as not to be confronted by a plodding series of dull gray sculpture, broad swaths of color have been added among the casework, auspicious colors exemplary of the cultures that produced these works of art, like saffron, the color of sacrifice worn by the Buddhist monks of Tibet, yellow, the color of the Indian spring festival, and red, the color of traditional bridal dress. Color is a very important part of South and Southeast Asian life. Nearly all works surrounding us in this gallery were once originally vibrantly painted with a variety of colors and also originally draped in fine textiles. Some works even retain part of their original coloration; not so much those in the Art Institute, but some works even in-situ, like this 17th century granite sculpture of a divine marriage ceremony from the Madurai temple in Tamil Nadu in Southern India. Notice also the floral garlands draped over the figures. And in this 19th century Indian watercolor of priests worshipping the god Krishna, now in Australia. While it’s a 2-dimensional work, you can still get a sense of how the images of gods and goddesses were and still are today draped in extraordinary fabrics in Hindu and Buddhist temples.
The colored panels in the Alsdorf Galleries of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic Art serve to remind us that these works of art surrounding us are now stripped out of their original sacred context. These magnificent works of sculpted stone and cast bronze, while being beautiful works of art in their own right, were not created for the purpose of being displayed in a museum behind airtight glass in a precision temperature- and humidity-controlled environment. These sacred works are consecrated icons of divine beings. As in Western traditions, an icon, or a work of art that undergoes a religious consecration, is literally thought to house the spirit of the divine form. It’s called the “eye-opening” ceremony, when the icon is unveiled and awakens with painted open eyes as the spirit of the divine enters the figure. In the original context of a temple or shrine, one would expect to encounter these sacred works, like this 12th century Indian statue of the Divine General Kartikeya, adorned with fine drapery, colorful pigment, flowering garlands, and all manners of religious offerings piled at his feet, like incense, flowers, food, and money.
This colossal figure is one of the centerpieces of the Alsdorf Galleries. He and the adjacent contemporary South Indian Buddha are hard to miss when passing through, but hopefully you’ll do more than just pass through. Hopefully you’ll even stop to enjoy these works on your way from the gift shop to the restaurant. The statue of Kartikeya exemplifies much of the rich iconography and symbolism of the Hindu tradition. The multiplicity of arms and heads reflect the celestial, superhuman quality of his divine form. (Although, to be very specific, the six heads on Kartikeya here actually refer to the story surrounding his mystical birth, six heads to nurse from his six foster mothers, but multiple heads is a common element of Hindu iconography.) Each of his hands holds some sort of ritual implement or weapon, each having a precise meaning. Like the lotus blossom (“padme” in Sanskrit) in one of his right hands, symbolic of enlightenment—the lotus flower rising from the murky depths of the marsh out of the darkness up to the heavenly light of the sun—also symbolic of the feminine energy of the human spirit. And the vajra, or thunderbolt, in his upper left hand, symbolic of the masculine energy of the human spirit. The lotus and vajra can be read together as a union, a balance, between our feminine and masculine sides. People aren’t one or the other. There’s a duality to us all. To reach nirvana, to reach an enlightened state of being, we need to strike an internal balance, a harmony of these forces within. To borrow something from the Far East, it’s like the yin and yang, a harmony in the unified circle of two swirling opposites. We also need to strike an internal balance between our compassion and wisdom. Interestingly, wisdom in the Hindu tradition is generally equated with femininity, whereas compassion is equated with masculinity … kinda opposite to the Western tradition.
Notice that two of Kartikeya’s hands aren’t holding anything. Those hands, instead, are striking very specific poses. It’s called a mudra. A mudra is a gesture that conveys a specific message. There are hundreds of different mudras, each having their own specific meaning. Mudras are employed throughout Hindu and Buddhist iconography and can be seen repeatedly among the statuary and paintings in the Art Institute’s galleries of Asian art. You’ll also come upon the widespread employment of mudras in classical Indian dance. What Kartikeya’s striking is very common. It’s actually two different mudras. His right hand with the fingers pointing up and the palm forward is the Abhaya mudra, the “gesture of reassurance.” With this mudra, Kartikeya is saying “fear not, rest assured, everything will be fine and I’ll take care of you.” Think of it like a hand stretched out to offer a reassuring pat on the shoulder. The mudra of his left hand is similar—palm facing out and fingers straight—but pointed down instead. That’s the Varada mudra, the “gesture of charity or compassion.” Think of it as a hand stretched out either asking for or receiving alms. So, these two mudras can be read together conveying a combined message of “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you and everything will be peachy … so long as … you lead a good, charitable, and righteous life according to Dharma, the rule of law.”
Notice also the smoothly polished, blackened regions along his legs, whereas the rest of the figure is somewhat rough and pocked with a dull gray color. The figures is made of granite, an incredibly hard stone. You might think of your kitchen countertop with its smoothly polished finish, but that’s thanks to modern industry. Preindustrial granite statuary is generally not so smoothly polished. What do you suppose would cause this discoloration and extremely smooth polish? Well, talking so much about hands just a few seconds ago, how about hundreds of year of people touching him on his legs? Remember, many of these works were originally consecrated icons. To touch the icon will bring you all that much closer in touch with the divine. Of course, stripped from that context and now placed in a museum, whatever spirit once resided in the work has long since left and touching won’t do you any good and will just get you yelled at. Case in point, though, for why we don’t touch the art at a museum.
Something else that beckons our attention is his animal friend. What is that that he’s sitting on there? Some kind of bird, huh? It’s a peacock. That’s his regal mount, his trusty steed. In Sanskrit it’s called the vahana, from which we get the word “vehicle.” Many of the prominent Hindu deities ride a vahana. Kartikeya’s is the peacock. The god Shiva rides a bull named Nandi. The beloved, bulbous, elephant-headed god Ganesha rides a curious little vahana. It’s kinda hard to see at the base of this exquisitely-carved statue, but you can just barely make it out. It’s a rat! You see that the association of elephants and rodents goes back well into ancient times. And Vishnu rides a half-man half-eagle type of creature named Garuda. Sound familiar to anyone? How about Garuda Indonesia Airline? You see, these myths, stories, and divine beings are very much alive and well in the contemporary world. While the artwork we enjoy in the museum may be quite ancient and completely stripped from its original religious context, it’s helpful to recognize that these works are still very much applicable to contemporary culture. The iconography, attributes, individuals, and stories are expressed very similarly in traditional artwork produced today by people of these regions and cultures. So as you wander about exploring the ancient, medieval, and antique works from South and Southeast Asia, think of them not only as works from the past, but also as contemporary emblems of the panoply of global culture.
Thanks for listening. Don’t forget to visit ancientartpodcast.org where you’ll find credits for all the images used on the podcast, an extensive bibliography, links to other great resources, and recommendations from yours truly of other interesting podcasts. So long and keep on keepin’ on.
©2008 Lucas Livingston, ancientartpodcast.org]]>
Hey people. Welcome back. I’m excited to announce that we’re undergoing a little re-branding here. We’re dropping the SCARABsolutions and now it’s the Ancient Art Podcast. The website scarabsolutions.com will continue to work, but now you can also visit us at ancientartpodcast.org and you can reach me with your comments, questions, and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last time in episode 15 we set the stage for the origin of free-standing, monumental sculpture in Ancient Greece. We revisited the Greek Orientalizing Period with its Near Eastern influences in vase painting technique and subject matter, and we discussed the strong Greek presence in Egypt during the Egyptian Saite Dynasty of 664 to 525 BC. In this new cultural melting pot of Egypt, archaeological evidence points to an Egyptian influence on the sacred art and ritual practice of Ancient Greece. Greeks are visiting Egyptian temples, gazing in awe at the centuries-old monumental sacred structures while giving gifts to Egyptian gods of bronze Egyptian votive statuary with inscribed with Greek prayers. And Greek votive statuary starts to bear a resemblance to common Egyptian types like this figurine of a seated woman nursing a child, which may have been influenced by the popular figure type of Isis nursing the child Horus.
Diminutive votive figurines are one thing, but the big development that we’re interested in here is the advent of monumental, free-standing Greek sculpture some time in the 7th century BC. That’s right … “some time.” We don’t know exactly when the Greeks began creating sculpture, but we do know that, after the collapse of the Bronze Age Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations, there was a long period of time when the most elaborate figural works produced by the Greeks were small figurines and relief carvings of stone, terracotta, and bronze. The advent of monumental sculpture in the 7th century was a huge development, and by “monumental” I mean big and made of something durable, like stone or metal. And what’s really remarkable is the style of the earliest known Greek sculptures. Here we have one of the earliest and most intact Greek statues of the kouros type. “Kouros” is simply the Greek word for “boy.” This kouros, carved from a single block of marble, is dated to about 590-580 BC. It’s at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and it’s unofficial name in the scholarly arena is … wait for it … the Metropolitan Kouros. Sheer genius. He’s large as life, about 6′ 4″ or 1.946 m tall—I guess larger than life for most Ancient Greeks—but look at the pose. All early kouroi appear in a nearly identical pose. Broad straight shoulders, arms straight down at his sides, strong frontal stare, tall vertical posture, and his left leg stepping forward a bit. Remind you of anything? How about the figure of Ra-Horakhty that we looked at last time in episode 14? The Greek kouros is borrowed directly and heavily from the popular Egyptian standing male, the statue type that has a widespread prominent presence throughout Egypt, from miniature religious votives to colossal tomb and temple sentinels. The Greek mercenaries, merchants, artisans, and travelers to Egypt, which we talked about last time, had regular opportunity to be in contact with the long tradition of Egyptian statuary, which no doubt encouraged similar artistic development back home.
As I said earlier, he’s carved out of a single block of stone, and he retains a sort of blocky shape. Following the Egyptian technique for executing a stone carving, the sculptor took a large rectangular block of stone, drew the figure’s front, back, left, and right sides onto their respective sides of the block, and went to work, gradually removing stone from all four sides, working his way inward until the sides met, producing a free-standing figure in the round. It’s an efficient technique, but typical of early Greek kouroi, each side retains a sort of flattened planar effect. He’s somewhat in between being completely rounded and being a four-sided figure.
Another thing that the kouros and Egyptian statuary had in common, but it’s often overlooked on both accounts, is color. That’s right, as with so many examples of ancient art, which now appear in the crisp, pristine, unadulterated purity of a more noble and stoic age, the kouros was originally highly painted in a variety of colors meant to mimic real life—flesh tones, dark hair, brown eyes, full dark eyebrows, a cute little red necktie like the good boy scout he is. A lot of work has been done to reconstruct the original color on ancient statuary and architecture, but that’s a topic for a later episode. If you want to get a head start, though, check out a couple websites: The Color of Life: Polychromy in Sculpture from Antiquity to the Present, an exhibition that was at the Getty Villa in California from March to June of 2008, and also Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity that was at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum a little earlier in the year. Just Google them or click on the links in the Additional Resources section at ancientartpodcast.org.
Putting aside the broad similarities between Egyptian statuary and Archaic Greek kouroi, one subtle similarity I like to note is the quirky Mona Lisa smile, also called the “Archaic smile.” Because why would you want to spend all this time and money on a frowning statue? But you’ll notice a few differences between the Egyptian statue type and the Greek kouros. For starters, there are some formal differences. In addition to replacing the Egyptian wig with those lovely, cascading, curly Greek locks, the kouros figure is clearly in the nude. For the most part, Egyptian statuary of this standing type were somewhat clothed. At least a kilt, please! Sure, there are some nude examples from Egypt, but those are rare and generally not plastered all over the place. So, why is the kouros represented in the nude? Here’s another prime example of the Greeks adopting a foreign concept and immediately adapting it to suit their own needs. The nudity of the kouros is directly related to its function. The Greeks didn’t have the ancient tradition of mighty Pharaoh to venerate in all of his three-story glory, but two other functions of statuary from Egypt could easily be adapted to Greece—that is, as monumental temple dedications and as grave markers … tombstones. Greece already had a long tradition of honoring the dead with elaborate ceramic memorials. Many of the colossal vessels of the Geometric Period were crafted to be set up as grave markers in the Dipylon Cemetery of the Athenian ceramics district, the Kerameikos. These monumental vessels weren’t functional on a practical level. They even had holes drilled into the bottom to prevent collecting water. Wealthy Athenian families during the 7th century BC erected lavish displays of conspicuous wealth in honor of their deceased family members, so much so that the famous Athenian statesman Solon actually passed legislation restricting the expense on private funerals. So, but with the advent of sculpture in Greece, it’s not unreasonable to understand a fashionable movement towards decorating graves with this trendy new art form.
As grave markers, the kouros type generally decorated the graves of fallen youths. Young men lost before their prime. Maybe heroic youths fallen on the battlefield, or so the symbolism suggests. The nude form of the kouros casts the fallen youth in the light of the heroic warrior. Heroic warriors like Achilles, Odysseus, and Hercules are generally depicted fighting in the nude. Yes, of course, Greek warriors of history fought heavily armored, complete with breastplate, greaves, helmet, and shield, but in myth the hero would fight in the nude. So here the individual commemorated by the kouros is elevated to heroic status. But there’s a second idea at work here. The nude form of the kouros might also remind us of a youth participating in athletics, which the Greeks did indeed do in the nude. So, here we have a fallen youth commemorated as the proud athlete participating in perhaps what his family believes he ought to have been doing back home in the safety of the Athenian gymnasium, rather than marching to far off lands only to die on the battlefield. It’s an interesting tug in two directions, a dual interpretation, which … hey, maybe I’m just making this up, but the hero and the athlete are two of the most popular subjects for the human male form throughout the history of Greek sculpture.
If you want to read a meticulous examination of the Metropolitan Kouros, check out the authoritative article by Gisela M. A. Richter and Irma A. Richter “The Archaic ‘Apollo’ in the Metropolitan Museum” published in the Metropolitan Museum Studies, volume 5, number 1 from August 1934. Like fine scotch, some articles keep well with age. Notice “Apollo” in that article title. That’s because back in the early part of the 20th century, kouroi were generally referred to as “Apollo figures,” a term which has since been dismissed.
So, with the kouros, Ancient Greece begins its spectacular journey exploring the possibilities of sculpture, opening the floodgates for a revolution that would define the artistic heritage of Western Civilization. And that, friends, is a story for another day.
©2008 Lucas Livingston, ancientartpodcast.org
Hey folks. Lucas Livingston here at the SCARABsoltuions Ancient Art Podcast. Great to have you back. In this episode, we’ll take a brief look at the historical climate that gave rise to Greek sculpture. Yeah, tall order.
“Gave rise to Greek sculpture” you say? There actually was a time before sculpture in Ancient Greece. Well, between sculpture, actually—the Greek Dark Age—between the relatively advanced Bronze Age and the much later Orientalizing and Archaic Periods. Remember back in episode 5 on the Art Institute’s Corinthian pyxis, we talked about the Orientalizing Period of approximately the 7th century BC—to quote myself, “The Orientalizing Period is a time when the Greeks renew contact and trade with the different civilizations of the Mediterranean and the Ancient Near East after a long period of isolation during the Greek Dark Age and Geometric Period. This is a fascinating time of rediscovery, invention, and assimilation.”
In that episode we looked at a few of the interesting Near Eastern influences in the developing arts of Greece. On Greek vase painting, we start to see fantastical creatures of the Near East, like sphinxes, griffins, and chimeras, and the adoption of long-standing, stock, Near Eastern decorative motifs like rosettes and palmettes. The Orientalizing Period was a time when the Greeks were suddenly thrust onto the world stage through mercantile exchange with Phoenicia, Syria, and other Near Eastern nations. The Greeks became familiar with Near Eastern artistic traditions through all the patterned textiles, decorated vessels, and other ornamentation that these foreign merchants brought with them to Corinth and other ports of trade. But just as the Greeks enjoyed and adopted these Near Eastern designs, they also immediately assimilated and adapted them to suit their own needs. And we discussed one example of this assimilation at length in the decoration of the Art Institute’s Corinthian pyxis.
There are a number of other profound developments in the Greek arts at this time, like the general manner in which the human form is represented on a two-dimensional painted surface. In episode 5 we explored how some areas of the Greek mainland, like Athens, continue in the traditional vase painting design of the previous century, with a stark contrast of the darkly silhouetted geometric figures against a background of meandering patterns. Corinth, however, pushes this aside for a more natural style of gentle curves and elaborate outlines of the figure’s contour with a smoother, flowing brush. We see the detail of human anatomy, facial features, and pleats and folds in the drapery. Coloration also makes its way onto the scene with the use of added red and white. The human form also becomes more dynamic, breaking away from the static paratactic pose of the Geometric Period. Shoulders and the chest might be seen in profile as opposed to the odd rendering of two shoulders and a frontal chest with a face turned in profile. So we start to see an increased attention to the naturalism, the manner in which the reality of the three-dimensional world works and how it can be expressed on a two-dimensional surface, a feat which the Greeks are only now beginning to undertake. But I don’t mean to give all the credit to Corinth. During the Archaic Period of the late 7th and 6th century BC, Athens was breaking new ground too, as we’ll soon see with the advent of sculpture.
The introduction of free standing monumental sculpture stems from another fascinating influence on the developing Greek arts, which deserves a lot of attention—but for this influence we need to look a little south to Egypt. Contemporary to the second half of the Greek Orientalizing Period and first half of the Archaic Period was the Egyptian 26th Dynasty, the Saite Dynasty of the Late Period. We call it the Saite Dynasty on account of the capital of Egypt at this time, the city of Sais in the delta region. And what time is this? We’re talking 664-525 BC. During the prior few centuries of the Third Intermediate Period, Egypt really blew it and lost all the power and influence that it acquired during the New Kingdom. Now during the Late Period, many of the nations surrounding Egypt had become major political and military powers that Egypt had to contend with. Since the Egyptian army wasn’t a whole heck of a lot to boast about, Pharaoh Psammetichus I (or in the Egyptian Psamtik) took the bold leap of hiring foreign mercenaries to fill the void. Psammetichus not only wanted to establish a strong military presence in Egypt, but he also wanted to forge military, political, and economic alliances with sympathetic foreign powers, namely the Greeks.
The Saite Dynasty is one of the coolest time periods in the history of the Mediterranean, because this is when we see for first time a strong Greek presence is Egypt. Psammetichus and other Saite rulers used Greek mercenaries to fight their battles and Greek merchants and craftsmen to support a strong economy of foreign trade in the Mediterranean. We even see the establishment in Egypt of Greek military barracks and the thriving development of a Greek civilian settlement. The port city of Naukratis exploded onto the scene as the short-lived, but preeminent port of trade in the Mediterranean. Sadly, today there’s not much more remaining than a few foundations. Naukratis was a fascinating melting pot of Egyptian and Greek culture. Greek and Egyptian temples were erected side-by-side. Greek merchants and craftsmen set up shop and traveled the Nile, seeing firsthand the splendors of the two-and-a-half thousand year-old Egyptian civilization. And just as the Greeks were inclined to adopt Near Eastern ideas to enhance their artistic repertoire, there are also some very distinct Egyptian influences on the cultural development of Greece in the aspects of domestic and religious art, temple architecture, and even religious belief and ritual. Greeks begin to visit Egyptian temples, dedicating bronze Egyptian votive statuary with Greek prayers inscribed on them. Greek votive statuary begins to take on an Egyptian form like this figurine of a seated woman nursing a child, which closely resembles the very popular figure type of Isis nursing the child Horus.
So, at the beginning of this episode I said we’ll take brief a look at the historical climate that gave rise to Greek sculpture. We did that, the stage is set, and before I start to lose you, we’re going to wrap things up here. We’ll pick up next time with a close look at one of the earliest known and most intact Greek sculptures of a particular statue type called a “kouros”—the so-called “Metropolitan Kouros” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
©2008 Lucas Livingston, ancientartpodcast.org
Thanks for coming back to the SCARABsolutions Ancient Art Podcast. As always, I’m your host, Lucas Livingston. In this episode, I want to discuss some of the basic formal concepts of Egyptian statuary. To do so, we’ll look at this standing figure of the Egyptian god Ra-Horakhty from the Art Institute of Chicago, whom we briefly met in episode 1, if you may recall, on the scarab in Ancient Egypt. Ra-Horakhty was a particularly prominent Egyptian deity, attested to certainly as far back as the Old Kingdom. He’s what’s referred to as a composite deity, which is a union of two or more gods into a single cult, like Ptah-Sokar-Osiris, whom we met in episode 4 on the Statue of Osiris. Incidentally, I encourage you to check out the Art Institute of Chicago Musecast for June of 2008. Here you’ll find a short discussion of the science behind the coloration of the Statue of Osiris and a bit on its history and conservation. You can get to the Art Institute Musecast by clicking on its logo in the Additional Resources section at scarabsolutions.com. Back to the concept of the composite deity, we also call this union or merging of religious and cultural systems “syncretization.” Now, there’s a good $5 word to stick in your pocket. Ra-Horakhty is the synchretization of two well known Egyptian gods, Ra, the falcon-headed god of the sun, and Horus, the falcon-headed god of kingship, son of Osiris and the god manifest on Earth as Pharaoh. Fortunately, in the case of Ra-Horakhty, the Egyptians didn’t have to debated long over which head to use. The “akhty” part of Ra-Horakhty means “horizons,” so his name is literally “Ra, Horus of the Two Horizons,” the two horizons, of course, East and West, being central to Egyptian spiritualism as symbols of birth and death. The cult of Ra exerted such a strong influence over other Egyptian religions that many different deities found themselves getting syncretized with him. For example, maybe the most well know Egyptian composite deity is Amun-Ra, the massively influential cult of Karnak and Luxor during the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period.
This figure is made of bronze and is what’s known as a votive figurine. He’s about 25 cm or 10 inches tall and is dated to the Third Intermediate Period, some time from 1069 to 656 BC. Originally he almost certainly stood on a squat rectangular pedestal, like many of the other bronze votives on display next to him, and he also had an elaborate crown. You can tell because of the little hole on the top of his head where the crown, crafted as a separate piece, would have been inserted, but that crown is now lost. A votive figurine is a fairly common type of statuette found, well, now in a museum … but before that often buried somewhere within the precincts of a sacred structure, whether buried by time, accident, or intention. “Votive” isn’t entirely unfamiliar to us now-a-days. That little tea light — the small candle lit to keep your tea pot warm — is often called a votive candle. A votive is any sort of devotional object given as an offering to a divinity, whether a candle or a gilded bronze figurine. A votive offering is a sort of contract with the god. You give your god a gift and offer up a prayer and in return, hopefully, that prayer will be recognized with a blessing of some sort, whether it’s the cure of an ailment, a healthy birth, a fertile crop, or whatever. And a votive also has the real-life practical function of providing the temple or church with a small bit of additional revenue. I think a prayer is up to a buck these days.
So, let’s examine the formal characteristics of the Ra-Horakhty. He’s exhibiting the classic, canonic Egyptian pose for the standing male. This essential form is exhibited throughout the history of Egyptian sculpture, from its inception well into the Greco-Roman era. Notice the broad straight shoulders, arms straight down to his sides, with clenched fists, as though he were originally holding something. Perhaps a rod of some sort or a small sash—two common attributes of office or station. Trace amounts of gilding survive on his kilt, wig, and necklace. Gilding is the fancy word for a thin gold leaf coating. Notice also that despite having the head of a falcon, he definitely has human ears, albeit humorously big ones pushed outward by the wig. Also, if you look really closely, you’ll see his magnificent vanity belt buckle. The gilding here is surprisingly intact. The hieroglyphs read Ra-Horakhty pet netjeru, which mean “Ra-Horakhty, chief of the gods.”
He’s pretty fit too. We may not see the most well-defined musculature, but he definitely has a slender, athletic, idealized, youthful form akin to representations of nearly all the gods and kings. But it’s not entirely realistic and that’s something important to consider. Look at his legs. The left leg is forward. That’s an incredibly recognizable feature of this archetypical pose. But he’s not exactly stepping forward, is he? Otherwise his arms would be swinging to maintain balance and his upper body would be leaning forward too. It’s a little hard to see here, since he’s stuck behind glass and we can’t get a good profile view, but if he were stepping forward in a true stride, his back leg would also be at an angle slightly behind his center of gravity, but that’s not the case here. His right leg is perfectly vertical along his central axis. Both feet are firmly planted on the ground too, so he’s clearly not in mid stride. But realistically what he’s doing is physically impossible without bending his knees and swiveling his hips. The left leg of the figure is actually a little bit longer than the right one, just long enough so that it can reach the ground.
But what’s all this mean? A lot of ink has been spilled on speculations about why the left leg of Egyptian statuary is forward … and it’s invariably the left leg. Is there some secret meaning behind the left leg? Is this an attempt at rendering dominance, a sort of political propaganda or is something else at work? Well, unfortunately we don’t benefit from the Ancient Egyptians drafting treatises on their art, as we do with later civilizations, but one widely accepted theory has to do with Egyptian hieroglyphs. You see, hieroglyphs can be written in nearly any direction, but they’re most commonly found written right to left. Here’s a neat trick if you ever want to know which direction the hieroglyphs are written. Look at the animals or people. They’re always facing the beginning of the sentence. So, commonly the figures are facing to the right, since it’s commonly written right to left. If we recall from episode 9 “Walk Like an Egyptian,” the salient characteristics of the human form are always visible in writing and in relief, so you always see the hidden back leg peaking out from behind the front leg. In a right-facing figure, the left leg then becomes slightly extended forward to be visible out from behind the right leg in the forefront. What’s this got to do with sculpture? Well, as we saw all over the mummy case of Paankhenamun in episode 2, hieroglyphic characters and principles are regularly adapted to reliefwork and three-dimensional sculpture. When seen in profile facing to the right, the Ra-Horakhty and countless other Egyptian statues in this divine canonic pose participate in the uniquely Egyptian experience of the written word being adapted to sculptural form.
I hope that made sense. Keep this pose in mind for next time as we turn our eyes to Greece and the origin of Greek statuary. Thanks for listening to the SCARABsolutions Ancient Art Podcast.
©2008 Lucas Livingston, ancientartpodcast.org
Hello again and welcome back to the SCARABsolutions Ancient Art Podcast. Please bear with me for a minute as I make a brief technical note. If Episode 11: The Parthenon Frieze, Part 2 was the last episode that automatically downloaded to your computer if you’re subscribing to the podcast, then that’s probably because I recently updated my podcast publishing software. Apple kindly decided to rename my podcast’s RSS feed, the link that you use to subscribe, and there’s not much I could do about it. But I did tell iTunes to redirect to the new feed, so for many listeners this may not be a problem any more. If you’re still having trouble with the subscription, though, just try unsubscribing and visit scarabsolutions.com, where you can resubscribe with the correct new link. And if all else fails, you can email me at email@example.com and I’ll see what help I can offer. If none of this is making any sense, then it may not apply, so don’t worry and just keep listening as always.
So, with that, in the past three episodes we studied the Parthenon Frieze on the Athenian Acropolis in comparison to the Apadana reliefs at the Persian capital Persepolis. While we probably exhausted our interest in that topic for a while, I do want to take just another few minutes to look at the Parthenon Frieze in comparison to another great work of art far removed from Ancient Greece, “The Chicago Panels” by contemporary American artist Ellsworth Kelly. But before we jump in, I need to correct a little mistake I made in Episode 12. When I was talking about the replica of the Parthenon Frieze on the north side of the Art Institute, I mentioned that it’s a replica of sections from the east frieze of the Parthenon. Slip of the tongue, there. I meant to say that these figures come from the west frieze of the Parthenon, the formal beginning to the frieze. The east frieze of the Parthenon, in contrast, shows the conclusion, with the Olympian gods and presentation of the new peplos (that is, if you buy that interpretation).
Described as a master of color and form, Ellsworth Kelly is well known for his quintessential style of large, carefully controlled areas of color exuding a sense of purity in their simplicity. The Art Institute has a rich collection of works by Kelly, including paintings, collages, drawings, prints, and sculpture from throughout his prolific career. “The Chicago Panels” from 1989 to 1999 consist of six painted, monochromatic, curved aluminum panels hung on the walls around the upper level above the sculpture court of the American Art galleries at the Art Institute. Emphasizing pure color and shape, Ellsworth Kelly’s works associate with the architectural setting around them. In the American Art sculpture court, the Chicago Panels interact not only with the walls, on which the panels hang, but also the magnificent floor-to-ceiling Classical Greek style Doric columns along the balcony railing.
The Chicago Panels were commissioned specifically for this interior space. There’s no clear indication why they’re called the Chicago Panels, but the shape and color of Kelly’s artwork are often inspired by familiar objects and phenomena. When you stare at the panels long enough, you might just start to see the familiar shapes of Chicago’s skyline. At least, that’s some people’s take on it. Or maybe the many colors reflect a panel of Chicago’s ethnic diversity. By nature of its formless quality, Kelly’s artwork is very personal, engaging with the viewer and inviting you to participate in interpretation, and that’s what this episode is all about — a personal experience. We recently explored the similarities between the Parthenon Frieze and the Apadana in terms of the way one might have experienced the two works and their sites. Now I’d like to draw a comparison of personal experience between the Parthenon Frieze and the Chicago Panels. When I walk upstairs and around the gallery looking at the panels, glimpsing their partial forms sliced by the intermittent columns, I feel I come close to the same experience a late 5th century BC Athenian may have had when processing alongside the Parthenon glancing up at the frieze. I mentioned last time that the Parthenon Frieze is a sort of Athenian self-portrait mirroring the contemporary act of sacred procession at its feet. Sure, there’s no sacred procession going on in the Art Institute galleries, not regularly, at least, but if you see yourself or your city in the Chicago Panels, you might encounter a similar sense of personal patriotism.
Also, as you walk through the gallery, the Classically-inspired Doric columns break up your experience, providing only obstructed glances of the panels as you look out across the open-air space of the sculpture court below. This almost strobe-like effect of brief, fractured glimpses provides a sense of animation to the panels. Interestingly, there’s no one point in the gallery where you can stand and see all six panels in their entirety. Give it a shot. I’ve tried. There’s always at least just a little sliver of a panel hiding behind one of the columns. Just the same way on the Parthenon, the Doric colonnade breaks up your experience of the frieze, offering you only glimpses of the entire scene. As you process alongside the frieze looking up at the interrupted cavalcade of horses and parade of tribute, the fractured glimpses produce a similar sense of animation, spurring the galloping horses to life. And imagine how much more lively and life-like the frieze must have appeared in its original, vibrant, realistic coloration. Yes, as with most Ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, the Parthenon Frieze and the rest of the Parthenon were highly painted.
Ellsworth Kelly may in no way have been inspired by the Parthenon Frieze when creating the Chicago Panels, and I’m not making any claim to that effect. This is just an opportunity for me to explore my own personal resonance with two moving works of art — conscious and subconscious experiences paralleled by ancient and contemporary human achievement.
I hope you didn’t mind our short departure from ancient art. Maybe you even enjoyed it. If you’d like to do more digging, I’ve added a few references on Ellsworth Kelly to the bibliography in the Additional Resources section of SCARABsolutions.com. Thanks for listening and see you next time on the SCARABsolutions Ancient Art Podcast.
©2008 Lucas Livingston, ancientartpodcast.org
Welcome back to the SCARABsolutions Ancient Art Podcast. I’m your host, Lucas Livingston, your guide on our journey across the Ancient Mediterranean World. Last time in Episode 11, The Parthenon Frieze, Part 2, we continued to inch toward our understanding of the Persian influence on the Parthenon Frieze. We discovered that Ionian Greek artisans played a significant role in the construction of the Persian imperial cities of Persepolis and Susa. We also looked at further evidence for the employment of Ionian artists in the Ancient Near east, in particular Asia Minor, like at Xanthos in Lycia. So, in this cultural melting pot of the Persian Empire, we see a significant exchange of artistic, iconographic, and social ideas, some of which shape Persian and Near Eastern art, while other ideas make their way over from Persia to Greece.
In this episode, we’ll begin with a brief history of the Ionic frieze before diving headlong into the Persian influences on the Parthenon Frieze of the Athenian Acropolis. It’s not absolutely necessary to trace the history of the Ionic frieze, but since the Parthenon Frieze participates in this history, it’s important to isolate what’s traditional and what’s new and innovative, so we can more easily identify the various influences.
The early Ionic frieze was basically just a continuous decorative band running around the perimeter of sacred structures, like temples, shrines, and sanctuaries. It’s called the Ionic frieze, because it develops in Ionia, which we learned last time means the Greek nations along the western coast of what’s now Turkey. You typically see animals and human figures on the Ionic frieze engaging in hunting, horse and chariot races, feasting, and ritual processions or parades, but there’s really no attempt at representing specific identifiable stories … not at this early stage. Also, there’s seldom a clear beginning, middle, or end to the scene and we see a strong sense of repetition among the figures, creating a sense of rhythm as one passes by. As we’ll see more closely later on, many of these subjects and themes are also found on the Parthenon Frieze, coming together under a grand artistic and civic vision.
While the early Ionic frieze had a largely decorative function, with little mythological or historical narrative context, there seems to have been a change towards the end of the Archaic Period as the Ionic frieze regularly began to depict mythological stories. One of the earliest examples of this transformation is seen on the treasury of the Siphnians at Delphi from about 530 to 525 BC.
The Siphnian Treasury was a small sacred structure, like a chapel or shrine, dedicated to the god Apollo. It was built by the island city-state of Siphnos in the Aegean among the Cycladic Islands. It’s called a treasury, because it was where many devotional offerings dedicated to Apollo were housed, mostly statuary given by the people of Siphnos. This was a common practice by Greek city-states, especially at the sanctuaries of Apollo at Delphi and Zeus at Olympia. Dedicating a treasury was a form of national marketing, so other city-states could gawk at its lavish splendor and be jealous of your wealth and power.
The east face of the frieze on the front of the treasury is divided into two panels of equal length. We see an assembly of the Olympian gods to the left of center and a battle scene from the Trojan War to the right. The organization of the figures is very balanced and thoroughly planned. Even though the left and right panels are architecturally one single unit, they are perceived of as being separate. For one, they represent different narratives. They also, quite literally, have their backs to one another. Also, notice how within each of the two panels, the figures change directions? This helps create a sense of momentum in the figures and draws the attention of the viewer to the centers of each panel where just beneath stood the Caryatid columns, which we see here in a beautiful reconstruction of the Siphnian Treasury at the Delphi Museum. Unfortunately, the original center of the Olympian panel is now lost, but in the Trojan War scene we see what’s thought to be the lifeless body of Sarpedon lying in a crumpled pile, over which the warriors are contesting. So, we see two interesting changes to the Ionic frieze taking place on the Siphnian Treasury. First, there’s the introduction of narrative or stories, no longer just a repetitive meander of galloping horses and flittering birds. Second, further abandoning the traditional repetitive ornamental meander that stretched the entire span of the architrave, we see that the frieze is broken up into different segments with different stories and even subplots as groups of three or four figures interact more closely with each other. These innovations—the introduction of narrative and breaking up the frieze into isolated segments—directly carry over to the Parthenon Frieze.
If you’re looking for more nitty-gritty details on the Siphnian Treasury, check the article “Notes on the Development of the Greek Frieze” and other publications by one of the modern pioneers of Greek art history, Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway, Also check out Richard Neer’s article “Framing the Gift: The Politics of the Siphnian Treasury at Delphi” in Classical Antiquity. You can find these references in the bibliography of the Additional Resources section at scarabsolutions.com.
We see another transformation to the Ionic frieze taking place in the Classical Period directly on the Parthenon Frieze itself. For the first time in the history of the Ionic frieze, an immediately contemporary ritual practice is alluded to or directly represented, what you might call the history of the now. As I briefly mentioned toward the beginning of this episode, the traditional Ionic frieze could represent ritual processions and cavalcades of horses. Here on the Parthenon Frieze, however, we see the Athenians representing not anonymous figures or mythic characters, but themselves. Sort of a civic self-portrait of the Athenians high above their heads as they parade alongside below in ritual procession.
A brief side note. Some of the images used here are modern replicas of the Parthenon Frieze. You’ll find these replicas of the original frieze decorating the front entrance to the Art Institute of Chicago on Michigan Avenue and also on the north and south sides. You’ll also find them inside the Art Institute high above the grand staircase in the large day lit atrium officially known as gallery 200. These replicas look back to the early tradition and origin of the Art Institute as an art school rather than art museum. The galleries were once filled with plaster casts of great Classical and Renaissance sculpture to serve as models and teaching aids for the art students. But over the past century, the Art Institute has gotten rid of nearly all examples to make room for original works of art from throughout the world. One fun little thing I want to point out can be seen on the north side of the building. Here high above your head, you’ll see not only a replica of a portion of the east west [sorry … I meant to say “west” in the podcast] frieze of the Parthenon although the figures on the Art Institute aren’t actually in the same order as the current generally accepted reconstruction), but you’ll also see two of the three pivotal artists involved in the construction of the Parthenon. We have Pheidias, sculptor of the frieze and overall designer of the Classical Acropolis, and Ictinus, architect of the Classical Parthenon itself. Not present here is Callicrates, co-architect with Ictinus. Instead we have Praxiteles, famed Hellenistic sculptor of many well-known works, including the Aphrodite of Knidos, of which you’ll find a Roman period copy within the Art Institute. Perhaps we can take a closer look at this fabulous statue in a later episode of the podcast.
The traditional interpretation of Parthenon Frieze is that it represents the Grand Panathenaia, a parade held every four years in Athens that celebrates the birth of Athena and foundation of Athens with the offering of a new peplos or robe to Athena along with a hefty offering of tribute from all the different city-states within the Athenian Empire—technically still called the Delian League. The Delian League was a union of Greek city-states that came together as allies under the threat of Persian invasion and subjugation. It was formed after the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC, an early monumental victory for the Greeks over the Persians. The Delian League gets its name from the little island of Delos in the southern Aegean Sea where the treasury was kept for the money contributed by each city-state. Later on in 454 BC, Athens moved the treasury from Delos to Athens supposedly to keep it better protected, but that solidified Athens’s control of the finances and political dominance of the Delian League. With this turn of events historians often begin referring to the Delian League as the Athenian Empire, and Athens really starts to behave in a manner befitting an empire, which we start to see reflected in the arts. One of the many new purposes Athens assigned to the finances of the league was construction of the Parthenon on the Acropolis, and with that the Parthenon Frieze. It makes sense, then, that we see the Parthenon Frieze depicting the offering of tribute at the Grand Panathenaia—a portrait of the very civil practice by which the frieze was conceived. Thereby the Parthenon Frieze could also be seen as a form of propaganda—a justification or legitimization of the offering of tribute to Athens by cloaking the tribute in the context of a traditionally mythic, sacred, and even heroic context. As a side note, there are a few other interpretations of what the Parthenon Frieze might depict. If you’re interested in exploring some alternate theories, like the representation of the sacrifice of the daughter of Erechtheus, check out for starters Joan Connelly’s 1996 article “Parthenon and Parthenoi: A Mythological Interpretation of the Parthenon Frieze,” in the American Journal of Archaeology, volume 100, pages 53-79.
So, why the big change? What caused this shift from an anonymous, almost generic representation of procession on the traditional Ionic frieze to a very specific Athenian parade on the Parthenon Frieze during this new Athenian imperial age? And I kinda just gave away the answer there. This is where we come to the Persian influence. Persepolis and the Athenian Acropolis show a pretty similar function when you look a little more closely. Both sites were ritual centers for their civic festival processions, both sites functioned as bureaucratic and administrative capitals of empires, and both sites served as treasuries to house the tribute given by subject nations of their empires.
These functional similarities could have led Athens to emulate the architectural model of Persepolis and the programmatic vision of Persia, her imperial forebearer, whose government Athens oddly enough came to parallel more and more in the wake of the Persian War. Similarly, it’s probable that Athens chose to model the Parthenon frieze in part after the Apadana reliefs at Persepolis to demonstrate a similar sort of civic pride and to pay respect to their national and now imperial godhead, Athena.
For over a century before beginning the new Classical Period Acropolis in 447 BC, Athens built little major, monumental statuary or sacred architecture. Pheidias was the artistic director of the building program on the Acropolis under the auspice of the great Athenian democrat Pericles. Pheidias gets credit for the general design and layout of the Parthenon’s frieze and sculptures and most likely for the initial models of the sculptures, but numerous artists and craftsmen from Athens and the many subject nations of the Athenian Empire were employed to execute most of the actual carving on the Parthenon.
By employing Ionian craftsmen, Athens sought to create an artistic style immediately relevant to and representative of this age of Athens as the new cosmopolitan center of the Mediterranean and leader of a panhellenic empire. Under the administration of Pericles and artistic genius of Pheidias, Athens carefully designed a new monumental architectural tradition, incorporating the local Doric order and the now more so than ever relevant Ionic order. Thus, the Ionian artists brought with themselves to Athens their traditional frieze design, and along with that their recently acquired ideas of Persian imperial propaganda.
We already mentioned some of the functional similarities between Persepolis and the Acropolis. Let’s look at some of the artistic similarities and perhaps some similarities in the way one might experience the two architectural wonders. The Audience Hall at Persepolis, called the Apadana, was the building used at the capital of the Persian Empire to received the tribute-bearing ambassadors of the subject nations. Emphasizing this function, the Apadana prominently displays extensive reliefs depicting the dignitaries with Persian and Median escorts lined up in a huge ritual procession paying honor to their ruler, patron, and protector, the Persian King. Similarly, the Parthenon frieze depicts a great assemblage of Athenians in festive, ritual procession to honor their protector and patron goddess, Athena. There’s no sense of domination or malevolent subjugation in the Apadana reliefs by some tyrannical, oppressive super-power. The ambassadors are peacefully guided by Persian and Median escorts holding hands with each other and with the lead dignitaries of each foreign party. Similarly, on the Parthenon Frieze the Athenians leading sacrificial victims and bearing gifts for their goddess are, themselves, being led by Athenian marshals. With Athenians guiding themselves in a ritual procession to the deities of the east façade, the implication here seems to be that Athens is divinely sanctioned to rule themselves, which is befitting of the placement of mortal Athenians at the culmination of the ritual procession on the east side of the frieze, the holiest external location of the Greek temple. The Olympian gods are actually pushed from the center of the Parthenon Frieze and mortal Athenians, engaging in an offering to Athena, take their place. With this, Athens effectively elevates herself to a sort of divine status, or the closest there is among Greek peoples. Similarly, at the center of the Apadana reliefs was the king—the closest human being to the divine, if not himself a living god—and around him the king’s court, where dignitaries present tribute to their patron. The event is so ritualized, so emblematic, as to become, in effect, the offering of sacrifice to their deity.
And then we come to the similarities between the Apadana reliefs and Parthenon Frieze that may function more so on a subconscious level—the common experience one might have had when participating in a ritual procession at Persepolis and on the Acropolis. What we’re looking at here on the Parthenon Frieze are different scenes of a long parade from beginning to end marching through Athens. Riders at the west end mount their horses and strap on their sandals, getting ready to take off. Horses, riders, and chariots speed along the north and south sides of the temple with the parade in full swing. Participants carry gifts and present sacrificial victims to the divine assembly at the east, with the ultimate culmination of the festival and parade being the presentation of Athena’s new peplos. Athenian and allied participants walking alongside the Parthenon in the Panathenaic procession would look up at the frieze through the intermittent breaks of the colonnade and see a familiar representation—the same thing that you’re doing right there—participating in a religious procession. And to help you engage with the frieze further, the occasional figure even looks out to the participants below. So the real life participants in a ritual procession are invited to associate themselves with the event of the Parthenon Frieze, the Parthenon itself, and the whole Acropolis.
And at Persepolis on the Apadana reliefs, the same technique is used to encourage onlookers to identify with the figures represented in the artwork, and also with Persepolis itself. The Apadana reliefs are thought to represent the annual festival of Nauroz, the Persian New Year’s celebration, when dignitaries of the subject nations were obliged to present their annual tribute, not entirely unlike the Panathenaic festival during the Athenian Empire. So, just as the figures in the Apadana reliefs are shown lined up marching to their king in a ritual parade, so too would the real-life dignitaries and soldiers be parading during the festival of Nauroz. And those aren’t just any figures in the Apadana reliefs. Their different styles of dress and the items they carry help us identify them as emissaries of the various nations subject to the Persian Empire, those very same tribute-bearing dignitaries and those very same Persian and Median soldiers, who themselves once long ago walked along these quote-unquote portraits in relief as they brought tribute to the king. The Apadana reliefs even help to channel the tribute bearers in procession as they climb the staircases to the Apadana terrace proceeding inward towards the king. And when seen in its entirety, all the hundreds of figures on the Apadana reliefs directly face the figure of the king, where he’s already receiving a Median marshal and spear-bearers, as seen here in this reconstruction drawing of the northern terrace of the Apadana from Margaret Cool Root’s 1985 article in the American Journal of Archaeology “The Parthenon Frieze and the Apadana Reliefs at Persepolis: Reassessing a Programmatic Relationship.”
So we’ve seen how the Acropolis of the new Athenian Imperial Age and the audience hall at Persepolis share a functional similarity as imperial treasuries and centers for tribute from subject nations. They were also both festival grounds for annual parades when the tribute was received. And they both served to unite a diverse group of cultures under a singular figurehead, in one case, the divine maiden and protector of democracy, Athena, and in the other, the Persian King, a living god.
We also explored a similarity in the experience of these sites by their respective festival participants in that the Apadana reliefs and the Parthenon frieze both demonstrate the same effect of connecting with the viewer, having him or her identify with the religious and imperial function of the site. We don’t see a lot of formal or stylistic similarities between the two sites, and that makes sense when you think that Athens wouldn’t directly and literally want to mimic the Persian government. Instead, by metaphorically associating themselves with their most immediate imperial forebearers, the Athenians justify their ascent to the role of emperor over the Eastern Mediterranean. By employing similar themes of tribute and the patriotic festival parade, Athens further manages to justify its claim in the eyes of the Ionian Greeks, who had long been familiar with these themes under Persian rule. And to bring it all home, Athens does all of this in the distinctly Ionian sacred artistic tradition of the Ionic frieze. How could the Ionians have possibly rebuffed their obsequious Athenian compatriots building bridges towards a new, allied, democratic Greece? Yeah, right.
Well, that concludes our long haul from Persia to Athens. I hope you enjoyed it. Don’t forget to visit SCARABsolutions.com where you’ll find the image library from the podcast and the ever-expanding bibliography in the Additional Resources section. And as always you can also read the transcripts for each episode plus search them, in case there’s something you know we covered previously, but don’t want to go back and listen to each episode until you find it. Plus the transcript helps to figure out how to spell all these strange ancient names I’m spouting. Also found among the transcripts is a list of links to more great Parthenon and Persepolis resources online. If you’d like to email me, you can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’d like to help me out, please consider offering your review of the podcast on iTunes. You’ll find a link at SCARABsolutions.com to visit the podcast in iTunes. Thanks for listening and see you next time on the SCARABsolutions Ancient Art Podcast.
©2008 Lucas Livingston, ancientartpodcast.org
First a brief technical note. After publishing episode 10, I discovered that the video quality was a little messed up on some computers. So, I fixed that and republished episode 10, The Parthenon Frieze, Part 1. So if you weren’t happy with the way episode 10 was looking on your computer, head on back over to scarabsolutions.com and watch it again or re-download it with whatever podcast client you’re using, like iTunes. To redownload it with iTunes you’ll need to visit the podcast’s homepage in the iTunes Store. The easiest way to do this is to go to scarabsolutions.com and click the “Visit in iTunes” link. Wait for iTunes to load and then click the “Get Episode” button next to episode 10. Hey, and while you’re there, why don’t you post a review. You’re review will help others decide whether or not to bother listening and it’ll help to let me know that the podcast isn’t going unappreciated.
In episode 10 we learned about the Elgin Marbles, the Parthenon frieze, and what’s the same and what’s different between the two. In a nutshell, there’s some crossover between the two, but each term refers to its own collective body of artwork. The Parthenon frieze is a work of art conceived and executed in the 5th century BC, whereas the Elgin Marbles is a hodgepodge collection of sculpture from the Acropolis now in the British Museum. We also began to explore how Athens came to adopt the role of Empire over the eastern Mediterranean after the defeat of Persia, who had previously ruled the Ionian Greek city states of Asian Minor. And with no previous imperial model for Athens to emulate other than her enemy, Persia, ironically Athens came to model herself after that very Persia. We can see this direction manifesting in Athenian artwork of the time, namely the Parthenon frieze, when closely compared to the Apadana reliefs at the Persian capital of Persepolis. But how can we begin to make a comparison between the Persian Apadana reliefs and the Athenian Parthenon frieze? First we need to establish some evidence for a vehicle that carried this influence from Persia to Athens and we find this vehicle in the roots of the Ionic frieze and its Ionian artists.
Let’s start by exploring the role of the Ionian Greeks at Persepolis. Ionia, if you’re not completely familiar with this term, was the region comprising of culturally Greek nations along what’s now the western coast of Turkey. So, the role of Ionian Greeks at Persepolis. To put things in perspective, we need to understand that the employment of eastern Greek, specifically Ionian, craftsmen in the Near East was far from an isolated event at Persepolis. When Ionia was part of the Persian Empire, they enjoyed good relations and strong trade with the many surrounding Near Eastern nations. There’s significant evidence that Ionian artistry was a big influence throughout much of the Near East, particularly in Asia Minor. Asia Minor: that’s the name we use for the Turkish peninsula specifically in ancient times. One such example of Ionian influence in Near Eastern art can be found at Xanthos in Lycia, where we find the so-called Harpy Tomb from about 480 BC, about 30 years before construction began on the Athenian Parthenon. The artists at Xanthos were clearly representing Near Eastern themes in a distinctly Greek design. To culturally define Lycia at this time may be a slippery slope. While there’s a tremendous Ionian Greek cultural influence, Lycia was undoubtedly perceived of as being somewhat alien to mainland Greek culture. There was also a tremendous Near Eastern cultural presence here, not only from the Persian occupation since about 540 BC, but from millennia of close relations and proximity to the Ancient Near East. So, while the funerary offering or tribute scene that we see on the Harpy Tomb may seem foreign to an Attic or Athenian audience, Ionians were pretty familiar with this sort of thing on account of their long-standing occupation under Persia. The Harpy Tomb exemplifies the hybridization of Ionian and Near Eastern culture and artistry. While many details of the subject matter and the composition of the scene as a whole definitely are not Ionian or any kind of Greek, the figural style could easily be lifted straight out of contemporary Ionian relief art. Considering the subject matter, though, the audience that commissioned this work was probably leaning culturally a little more towards the Near East or Persia rather than Greece. The tomb’s occupant, in fact, is thought to have been the Lycian warrior king Kybernis, who Herodotus tells us was the leader of the Lycian contingent in the Persian army of Xerxes against Greece. At Xanthos and sites further east, Ionian trade artists worked with their own familiar technique, yet under a Near Eastern iconographic program, and you can imagine that the Ionian style could, in turn, have been influenced by the multicultural association, if not formally then perhaps thematically. Xanthos and the Harpy Tomb reliefs offer us a sensible medium between the two wide-spread Ionian projects that we’re focusing on here: the Persepolis Apadana reliefs, with their extremely Persian formal quality, despite whatever apparent Ionic influences, and the Parthenon frieze, the defining work of the High Classical Greek style, despite whatever apparent Ionic influences.
Perhaps the most relevant precedent for the association of Greek and Near Eastern art and architecture, if we’re going to establish a connection between the Apadana reliefs and the Parthenon frieze, is the employment of Ionian Greek artists at Persepolis, itself. Construction at Persepolis, the new capital city of the Persian Empire, spanned the reigns of three Achaemenid rulers and lasted over fifty years. The Achaemenid Dynasty, which ruled Persia from 559 to 330 BC, gets its name from Achaemenes, the possibly legendary chieftain of the Persians from around 700 BC. Construction began at Persepolis in 518 during the reign of Darius I, continued through the reign of his son Xerxes, and finished under Artaxerxes I around 460 BC. Traditional scholarship on Persian art maintains the theory that the Persians, having been of nomadic cultural origin and having had no style of monumental art of their own, saw the solution of importing foreign craftsmen from throughout their empire and amalgamating their styles under the direction of Persian aesthetic and iconographic desires essentially to invent a new Persian style of monumental art. As the noted Near Eastern scholar Henri Frankfort translates in The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient, the very words of Darius I on his building inscription at Susa provide convincing evidence for Ionian craftsmen being employed by the Persian imperial regime:
A great god Ahuramazda, who created this earth … who made Darius king. … I am Darius. … This is the palace which at Susa I erected. From afar its ornamentation was brought. The cedar timber … from [Lebanon] was brought; … from Babylon the Carians and Ionians brought it to Susa. … The stone-cutters who wrought the stone, those were Ionians and Sardians. The men who wrought the baked brick, those were Babylonians.
These excerpts from the building inscription demonstrate that Darius divided up the labor of constructing his palace at Susa among the vassals of the Persian Empire. And if Darisus’s admission isn’t evidence enough for Ionian Greek artisans being employed at Susa and contemporary Achaemenid sites, we also have unmistakably Greek-style graffiti etchings upon the base of a figure of Darius. These heads of bearded men are stylistically identical to contemporary Greek vase painting of around 510-500 BC. If you’ll permit me to get a little speculative, one might imagine an Ionian artisan, weary of adhering to the stiff, repetitive, rigid Near Eastern style of representation he’s been confined to by his Persian taskmasters, as having taken leave of his conscription for a few minutes to play with the more realistic, experimental, organic style near and dear to his subjugated homeland.
We could go on for quite a bit here about the minor Ionian Greek influences on the Persian artistic style, which can be see in the Apadana reliefs at Persepolis, but that’s not the point of our discussion here, and for the sake of brevity, let’s cut out that part. If you’re interested in learning more about that, remember to plug in over at SCARABsolutions.com and check out the bibliography in the Additional Resources section. In addition to the section on the Athenian Acropolis, I also added a section specifically on Persia and her relationship with Greece. But if I were to take the time to explain how the Apadana reliefs employ a sophisticated, fluid, distinctly Greek “Severe” style of rendering drapery in the quintessential archaic zigzag pattern, this would provide strong evidence for effective interaction and on-going intellectual exchange between Greek and Persian artisans, but I’m not going to go into that. And altogether, the Greek influence at Persian sites was quite limited, perhaps so as not to misdirect the propagandistic mission of Persian imperial art. Interestingly, only the drapery of figures representing Persians were rendered in the foreign Greek style-not the Medes or the Lydians or other foreign tribute bearers-hmm… It’s thought that the Apadana reliefs represent the celebration of Nauroz, the Persian New Year’s festival. During Nauroz the nations of the empire brought their tribute to the Persian king. Here we see tributaries from the subject nations bearing gifts in a ritual procession to the Persian court.
Persian policy towards her vassals wasn’t limited to conscripting their craftsmen and demanding an annual tribute. After conquering the Lydian Empire, Persia is thought to have invaded various island states and seized members of the Ionian citizenry to serve the king at home. All in all, Persia was a pretty tolerant ruler, but she tended to interfere with Ionian politics, as could only be expected of any occupying nation. Ionian cities seemed to enjoy prosperity and trade with the many neighboring nations, which were also or soon to be subject to the Persian Empire.
So, we’ve taken a look at a few examples of Ionian artisans being employed throughout Asia Minor and the Near East-on the Harpy Tomb at Xanthos and at Persian sites like Susa and Persepolis. We’ve also briefly explored how the Ionian Greek artistic style-with its increased attention at representing a dynamic and naturalistic quality to the human form and drapery in comparison to the traditional style encountered in Near Eastern art-how that’s crept into the new art of the Near East during this new era of a sort of globalization in the Persian Empire. We see this to a minor extent at Persepolis and even more so on the Harpy Tomb at Xanthos, where imperial aims don’t trump artistic innovation. In this new global climate, as artisans and other international citizenry are flung far into foreign lands, the cultural and intellectual exchange between Ionia, Persia, Lydia, and other neighboring nations could have been nothing short of profound. And as we turn our eyes westward, we’ll find these same Ionian artists later bringing their diverse experiences and influences with them to the new Empire of the Mediterranean: Athens.
©2008 Lucas Livingston, ancientartpodcast.org
The British Museum
• Galleries of the Parthenon Frieze
• Cleaning of the Parthenon Sculptures in 1938http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/article_index/c/the_cleaning_of_the_parthenon.aspx
• What are the ‘Elgin Marbles’?http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/article_index/w/what_are_the_elgin_marbles.aspx
UNESCO World Heritage Centre — Acropolis, Athens
Lots of great images of the Parthenon Frieze and sculptures at Ancient-Greece.org
The Parthenon Frieze from the National Documentation Centre, Ministry of Culture, Greece.
Great introduction and history of the frieze, a stone-by-stone description with images, and a bibliography.
The Parthenon Frieze virtual tour with flashy graphics, Columbia University Visual Media Center
The Nashville Parthenon
Reconstruction drawing of the interior of the Parthenon showing the statue of Athena Parthenos
UNESCO World Heritage Centre — Persepolis
Oriental Institute Photographic Archives
• Persepolis and Ancient Iran — Catalog of Expedition Photographs©http://oi.uchicago.edu/museum/collections/pa/persepolis/
• Persepolis Terrace: Architecture, Reliefs, and Findshttp://oi.uchicago.edu/museum/collections/pa/persepolis/persepolis.html
THE HARPY TOMB, XANTHOS, LYCIA
Relief panel from the Harpy Tomb, The British Museum
Hello and welcome back to the SCARABsolutions Ancient Art Podcast, your guidebook to the art and culture of the Ancient Mediterranean World. I’m your host on our far-flung journey, Lucas Livingston. Okay, now we’re going to get serious. For the next few episodes—I don’t know how many just yet, but we’ll find out—we’re going to explore one of the most iconic, monumental, pivotal, and contentious works of art from Ancient Greece: the Parthenon frieze. Huh!? You were probably expecting something a little more familiar, like the Venus de Milo or the Parthenon itself. Well, while the Parthenon frieze may not ring a bell for some listeners, you’re probably more familiar with it than you realize. Perhaps it’s a little more recognizable by the name the Elgin Marbles. You sometimes also hear it pronounced the Elgin Marbles. Tomatoe, tomatoe.
The Elgin Marbles contain actually only a portion of the Parthenon frieze. Granted, a significantly large portion; a portion systematically removed from the Athenian Acropolis and residing in the British Museum since 1816. To convolute things further, the Elgin Marbles are actually more than just roughly half of the Parthenon frieze. They also include pedimental and metope sculpture, fragmented statues from the Parthenon’s interior, parts of columns and walls of the Parthenon, a caryatid from the Erechtheum, and various other antiquities from Greece.
The Parthenon frieze remains one of the more contentious works of art from Ancient Greece—that is, now that resolutions have been reached for quite a few Greek and Roman antiquities with, ahem, questionable provenance. Check out the article “A Tangled Journey Home” in the September/October 2007 issue of Archaeology magazine for a great little synopsis of repatriated looted art that surreptitiously found its way from the Ancient Mediterranean to the galleries of great American museums. From 1802 to 1812, Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, secured permission from the Ottoman Empire to remove the Ancient Greek fragments that now encompass the Elgin Marbles. At the time Greece was under the Ottoman Empire. In his own defense, Lord Elgin claimed to be ensuring the survival of these poorly neglected treasures in the face of Ottoman indifference. From the time of their export through today, the Elgin Marbles have incited outcry and debate. The Greek government continues to demand their return, while Britain maintains that they rightfully deserve the Marbles for having spared them from certain deterioration. Never mind the fact that some of the Marbles received significant albeit accidental damage during a rather brutal cleaning at the hands of the British Museum. At least the British Museum has honed up to this and even has a short article on the cleaning damage on its website. Check that out and a whole host of other interesting Parthenon links in the Additional Resources section at SCARABsolutions.com.
The Parthenon frieze is … well, was a continuously running decorative band inside the Parthenon of the Athenian Acropolis. Not exactly in the interior, nor the exterior. It was located in a space high above your head between the peristyle, which are the outer columns, and the cella, the interior building. I was so excited when back in July of 2006 I had the opportunity to go visit Nashville, Tennessee as a guest speaker for a tour on Ancient Egypt. Why? Well, Nashville’s a cool place and all, but I was especially excited about visiting the scale replica of the Parthenon complete with the monumental statue of Athena Parthenos and plaster casts of the pedimental sculpture inside. But I was pretty disappointed to discover that they don’t include the frieze. But hey, this is better than nothing. This is phenomenal. For more photos of the Nashville Parthenon, check out SCARABsolutions.com.
The Parthenon, crowning glory of the Athenian Acropolis, constructed during the mid 5th century BC, the height of the Classical Period. It gets its name from Athena Parthenos, the maiden and patron goddess of Athens, whose glorious chryselephantine statue, designed by visionary sculptor Phidias, emblazoned within. Phidias supervised construction of the Parthenon and its sculpture from 447 to 432, including the design and execution of the Parthenon frieze.
This painting by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema from 1868 at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery beautifully captures an imaginary gala reception at the unveiling of the Parthenon frieze some time in the 430’s BC. Here we see Phidias standing proudly among his fellow Athenians high on the scaffolding at the level of the frieze. Notice, of course, the vivid colors. As with much of Ancient Greek and Roman sculpture and architecture, the Parthenon frieze was originally highly painted; gaudily, some might say. But today all the pigment, save miniscule traces, has weathered away.
It would take hours to cover the complete history of the Parthenon and her frieze, every nuance of the artistry and various interpretations. At this point, I want to skip over most of that and focus on one particular thesis. We come across a number of different interpretations surrounding the vision behind the design of the Acropolis. I want us to explore one specific interpretation of the Acropolis. Here we’ll take a look at how the Acropolis and more specifically the Parthenon frieze reflect the strongly rising imperial aspirations of Athens in the wake of the Persian War. This is a time when Athens was beginning to see herself as the successor to her former enemy, the Persian Empire, that foreign megapower so demonically depicted in the recent blockbuster film the 300. Athens and Persia are traditionally seen as complete opposites in political and cultural ideologies: the absolute democracy vs. the domineering empire. What’s ironic is that after the Persian War, after Persia’s military might was completely obliterated, Athens began to resemble Persia in her political practices. Athens has taken over as the dominating imperial power in the Mediterranean and this is something completely new for Athens. There’s really no political model for empire known to Athens other than Persia. It actually makes a lot of sense, then, to look to Persia for an imperial model, who only some forty years earlier was governing the very same eastern Greek nations, which Athens now controls. And to take it even one step further, Athens might also very well seek to model her new political art and iconography after Persian themes and iconographic motifs—especially in the Parthenon, the grandest monumental construction on the new Periclean Acropolis. The Parthenon, emblem of Athenian pride, greatness, and victory over foreign invaders, soon came to parallel pretty similarly the Apadana, the great Audience Hall at the Persian capital city of Persepolis. And to stretch us to the final limit and the ultimate purpose of the next few episodes of the podcast, even the Parthenon frieze itself bears remarkable iconographic and thematic similarities to the monumental terrace reliefs of the Apadana at Persepolis. Come on now as we check out the similarities between the Parthenon frieze and the Apadana reliefs at Persepolis—similarities that we’ll see come about as a result of Athens intentionally emulating the Persian imperial programmatic vision for her own Parthenon and Acropolis.
Of course, we can’t just jump right into trying to make the argument for the transmission of Persian imperial artistic themes to Athens unless we first demonstrate the vehicle for transmission. So that’s what we’ll need to concentrate on first. The Parthenon frieze participates in the strong tradition of the Ionic frieze. The Ionic frieze is a continuous band of decorative relief carving running along towards the top of the inside or outside walls of a temple. That’s a very brief explanation. We’ll take a closer look at the development and influences of the Ionic frieze later on. It’s interesting and important to note that, when Athens’s predecessor, the Persian Empire, was dominating the eastern Mediterranean, there’s a bit of a crossover and co-development between the Ionian and Persian artistic styles. And it makes a lot of sense that you’d see this co-development, as we’ll explore next time. So, we’ve actually got two influences shaping the Parthenon frieze: one, the Ionic frieze and two, the Apadana reliefs at Persepolis. And the Persian influence on the Parthenon Frieze is also two-fold: both indirectly via the Ionic frieze and directly straight from the Apadana reliefs. But what makes Persia so readily accessible to Greek artists? What’s this vehicle for transmission that I was talking about earlier?
We’ll answer that in the next episode. Simply to ensure that I don’t lose your attention, I want to break up this lengthy topic into episodes of somewhat reasonable length. So, be sure to tune in next time as we take a closer look at the Greeks in Persia and the significance this has on the development of the Ionic frieze. But if you want to jump the gun and get a head start, check out the bibliography in the Additional Resources section at SCARABsolutions.com. I just added a whole section exclusively on the Athenian Acropolis. Thanks for listening and see you next time on the SCARABsolutions Ancient Art Podcast.
©2007 Lucas Livingston, ancientartpodcast.org