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Phidias Showing the Frieze of the Parthenon to his Friends (1868) by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema.


Phidias or Pheidias (in Ancient Greek, Φειδίας); circa 480 BC – 430 BC), was a Greek sculptor, painter and architect, who lived in the 5th century BC, and is commonly regarded as one of the greatest of all sculptors of Classical Greece:[1] Phidias' Statue of Zeus at Olympia was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Phidias also designed the statues of the goddess Athena on the Athenian Acropolis, namely the Athena Parthenos inside the Parthenon and the Athena Promachos, a colossal bronze statue of Athena which stood between it and the Propylaea,:[2] a monumental gateway that served as the entrance to the Acropolis in Athens. Phidias was the son of a certain Charmides.[3]

Contents

Works

A Roman period, second century CE sculpture found near the Varvakeion school reflects the type of the restored Athena Parthenos presently in the (National Archaeological Museum of Athens).
A reconstruction of Phidias' statue of Zeus, in an engraving made by Philippe Galle in 1572, from a drawing by Maarten van Heemskerck.

Although no original works in existence can be confidently attributed to him with certainty, numerous Roman copies in varying degrees of supposed fidelity are known to exist. This is not uncommon. Almost all classical Greek paintings and sculptures have been destroyed, and only Roman copies or notes of them exist, like the passages of Plato that ascribe Phidias' works to him. The ancient Romans did not create a style of their own, they mostly copied and further developed Greek art.

Ancient critics take a very high view of the merits of Phidias. What they especially praise is the ethos or permanent moral level of his works as compared with those of the later so called "pathetic" school. Demetrius calls his statues sublime, and at the same time precise.

Of his life we know little apart from his works. His first commission was a group of national heroes with Miltiades as a central figure.

The famous statesman Pericles also commissioned several sculptures for Athens from him in 447 BC, to celebrate Greek victory against the Persians at the Battle of Marathon during the Greco-Persian Wars (490 BC). Pericles used some of the money from the maritime League of Delos,[4] to rebuild and decorate Athens to celebrate this victory.

In 1958 archaeologists found the workshop at Olympia where Phidias assembled the gold and ivory Zeus. There were still some shards of ivory at the site, moulds and other casting equipment, and a black glaze drinking cup[5] engraved "I belong to Phidias".[6]

The Golden Ratio has been represented by the Greek letter \varphi (phi), after Phidias, who is said to have employed it. The Golden Ratio is an irrational number approximating 1.6180 [7] which when studied has special mathematical properties. The golden spiral is also said to hold aesthetic values.

Early works

The earliest of the works of Phidias were dedications in memory of Marathon, celebrating the Greek victory. At Delphi he erected a great group in bronze including the figures of Greek gods Apollo and Athena, several Attic heroes, and General Miltiades the Younger. On the Acropolis of Athens Pheidias set up a colossal bronze statue of Athena, the Athena Promachos, which was visible far out at sea. Athena was the goddess of wisdom and warriors and the protectress of Athens. At Pellene in Achaea, and at Plataea Pheidias made two other statues of Athena, as well as a statue of the goddess Aphrodite in ivory and gold for the people of Elis.

Zeus at Olympia and the Athena Parthenos

Among the ancient Greeks themselves two works of Phidias far outshone all others, the colossal chryselephantine figures in gold and ivory of Zeus circa 432 BC on the site where it was erected in the temple of Zeus,[8] at Olympia, Greece, and of Athena Parthenos (literally, "Athena the Virgin") a sculpture of the Greek virgin goddess Athena named after an epithet for the goddess herself, and was housed in the Parthenon in Athens. Both sculpture belong to about the middle of the 5th century BC. A number of replicas and works inspired by it, both ancient and modern, have been made. From the 5th century BC, the copies of the statue of Zeus found were small copies on coins of Elis, which give us but a general notion of the pose, and the character of the head. The god was seated on a throne, every part of which was used as a ground for sculptural decoration. His body was of ivory, his robe of gold. His head was of somewhat archaic type: the Otricoli mask which used to be regarded as a copy of the head of the Olympian statue is certainly more than a century later in style. Of the Athena Parthenos two small copies in marble have been found at Athens which possess a certain evidential value as to the treatment of their original.

Materials and theories

In antiquity Phidias was celebrated for his statues in bronze, and his chryselephantine works (statues made of gold and ivory). In the Hippias Major, Plato claims that Phidias seldom, if ever, have executed works in marble, though many of the sculptures of his times were executed in marble. Plutarch tells us that he superintended the great works of Pericles on the Acropolis. Inscriptions prove that the marble blocks intended for the pedimental statues of the Parthenon were not brought to Athens until 434 BC, which was probably after the death of Phidias. It is therefore possible that most sculptural decoration of the Parthenon was the work of Phidias' atelier but supposedly made by pupils of Phidias, such as Alcamenes and Agoracritus. Our actual knowledge of the works of Phidias is very small. There are many stately figures in the Roman and other museums which clearly belong to the same school as the Parthenos. These are copies of the Roman age.

According to geographer Pausanias (1.28.2), the original bronze Lemnian Athena was created by Phidias circa 450-440 BCE, for Athenians living on Lemnos. Adolf Furtwängler proposed to find, in a statue of which the head is at Bologna, and of which the body is at Dresden, a copy of the Lemnian Athena of Phidias. Some 5th century torsos of Athena found at Athens. The torso of Athena in the École des Beaux-Arts at Paris, which has unfortunately lost its head, may perhaps best serve to help our imagination in reconstructing the original statue.

Gallery

See also

  • Constantinople - destruction in 1204 of the great statue of Athena, the work of Phidias

References

Notes

  1. ^ Phidias
  2. ^ Birte Lundgreen, "A Methodological Enquiry: The Great Bronze Athena by Pheidias" The Journal of Hellenic Studies
  3. ^ Not the Charmides who participated in the tyranny at Athens.
  4. ^ The Delian League was an association of approximately 150 Greek city-states under the leadership of Athens, whose purpose was to continue fighting the Persian Empire.
  5. ^ Image of the cup
  6. ^ The Oxford Art Dictionary, s.v. "Phidias"
  7. ^ The golden ratio can be derived by the quadratic formula, by starting with the first number as 1, then solving for 2nd number x, where the ratios (x + 1)/x = x/1 or (multiplying by x) yields: x + 1 = x2, or thus a quadratic equation: x2 − x − 1 = 0. Then, by the quadratic formula, for positive x = (−b + √(b2 − 4ac))/(2a) with a = 1, b = −1, c = −1, the solution for x is: (−(−1) + √((−1)2 − 4·1·(−1)))/(2·1) or (1 + √(5))/2.
  8. ^ Statue of Zeus from encyclopædiabritannica.com. Retrieved 22 November 2006.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

PHEIDIAS, son of Charmides, universally regarded as the greatest of Greek sculptors, was born at Athens about 500 B.C. We have varying accounts of his training. Hegias of Athens, Ageladas of Argos, and the Thasian painter Polygnotus, have all been regarded as his teachers. In favour of Ageladas it may be said that the influence of the many Dorian schools is certainly to be traced in some of his work. Of his life we know little apart from his works. Of his death we have two discrepant accounts. According to Plutarch he was made an object of attack by the political enemies of Pericles, and died in prison at Athens. According to Philochorus, as quoted by a scholiast on Aristophanes, he fled to Elis, where he made the great statue of Zeus for the Eleans, and was afterwards put to death by them. For several reasons the first of these tales is preferable.

Plutarch gives in his life of Pericles a charming account of the vast artistic activity which went on at Athens while that statesman was in power. He used for the decoration of his own city the money furnished by the Athenian allies for defence against Persia: it is very fortunate that after the time of Xerxes Persia made no deliberate attempt against Greece. "In all these works," says Plutarch, "Pheidias was the adviser and overseer of Pericles." Pheidias introduced his own portrait and that of Pericles on the shield of his Parthenos statue. And it was through Pheidias that the political enemies of Pericles struck at him. It thus abundantly appears that Pheidias was closely connected with Pericles, and a ruling spirit in the Athenian art of the period. But it is not easy to go beyond this general assertion into details.

It is important to observe that in resting the fame of Pheidias upon the sculptures of the Parthenon we proceed with little evidence. No ancient writer ascribes them to him, and he seldom, if ever, executed works in marble. What he was celebrated XXI. 12 a for in antiquity was his statues in bronze or gold and ivory. If Plutarch tells us that he superintended the great works of Pericles on the Acropolis, this phrase is very vague. On the other hand, inscriptions prove that the marble blocks intended for the pedimental statues of the Parthenon were not brought to Athens until 434 B.C., which was probably after the death of Pheidias. And there is a marked contrast in style between these statues and the certain works of Pheidias. It is therefore probable that most if not all of the sculptural decoration of the Parthenon was the work of pupils of Pheidias, such as Alcamenes and Agoracritus, rather than his own.

The earliest of the great works of Pheidias were dedications in memory of Marathon, from the spoils of the victory. At Delphi he erected a great group in bronze including the figures of Apollo and Athena, several Attic heroes, and Miltiades the general. On the Acropolis of Athens he set up a colossal bronze image of Athena, which was visible far out at sea. At Pellene in Achaea, and at Plataea he made two other statues of Athena, also a statue of Aphrodite in ivory and gold for the people of Elis. But among the Greeks themselves the two works of Pheidias which far outshone all others, and were the basis of his fame, were the colossal figures in gold and ivory of Zeus at Olympia and of Athena Parthenos at Athens, both of which belong to about the middle of the 5th century. Of the Zeus we have unfortunately lost all trace save small copies on coins of Elis, which give us but a general notion of the pose, and the character of the head. The god was seated on a throne, every part of which was used as a ground for sculptural decoration. His body was of ivory, his robe of gold. His head was of somewhat archaic type: the Otricoli mask which used to be regarded as a copy of the head of the Olympian statue is certainly more than a century later in style. Of the Athena Parthenos two small copies in marble have been found at Athens (see Greek Art, fig. 38) which have no excellence of workmanship, but have a certain evidential value as to the treatment of their original.

It will be seen. how very small is our actual knowledge of the works of Pheidias. There are many stately figures in the Roman and other museums which clearly belong to the same school as the Parthenos; but they are copies of the Roman age, and not to be trusted in point of style. A. Furtwangler proposes to find in a statue of which the head is at Bologna, and the body at Dresden, a copy of the Lemnian Athena of Pheidias; but his arguments (Masterpieces, at the beginning) are anything but conclusive. Much more satisfactory as evidence are some 5th century torsos of Athena found at Athens. The very fine torso of Athena in the Ecole des Beaux Arts at Paris, which has unfortunately lost its head, may perhaps best serve to help our imagination in reconstructing a Pheidian original.

As regards the decorative sculptures of the Parthenon, which the Greeks rated far below their colossus in ivory and gold, see the article Parthenon.

Ancient critics take a very high view of the merits of Pheidias. What they especially praise is the ethos or permanent moral level of his works as compared with those of the later "pathetic" school. Demetrius calls his statues sublime, and at the same time precise. That he rode on the crest of a splendid wave of art is not to be questioned: but it is to be regretted that we have no morsel of work extant for which we can definitely hold him responsible. (P. G.)


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