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Cambridge University Press
The Parthenon: From Antiquity to the Present

The Parthenon: From Antiquity to the Present

by Jenifer Neils
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This volume offers an overview of the Parthenon from antiquity to the modern era. Recent discoveries, such as the marble sculpture fragments found during the current restoration work on the Acropolis, or a vase excavated in Northern Greece whose decoration echoes a lost pedimental composition, have forced scholars to reconsider many aspects of one of the most important monuments of classical antiquity. Bringing together essays on various aspects of this world-renowned temple, this book examines the dramatic setting of the temple and its impact on modern architects such as Le Corbusier; new reconstructions and interpretations of Pheidias' vast sculptural program; in-depth analysis of architectural refinements; the techniques employed in making the colossal gold-and-ivory cult statue; and a consideration of the Christian and Muslim phases of the Parthenon's history. Collectively, they enhance our understanding of one of the icons of Western art.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780521820936
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Publication date: 09/05/2005
Pages: 454
Product dimensions: 7.36(w) x 10.35(h) x 1.26(d)

About the Author

Jenifer Neils is Ruther Coulter Heede Professor of Art History and Classics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

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The Parthenon
Cambridge University Press
0521820936 - The Parthenon - From Antiquity to the Present - Edited by Jenifer Neils


Jenifer Neils

The image of a ruined marble temple sitting silently and alone atop its high rock is embedded in our minds. It conjures the glory of the classical past, Western civilization, and even democracy. Its image graces hundreds of publications from travel magazines to art history textbooks. It looks clean, white, and glistening in the Mediterranean sun. This is the Parthenon - the icon of Everyman.

The reality, however, is rather different. The Acropolis swarms with noisy tourists, the ongoing and seemingly never-ending restoration project raises dust, and the temple on closer examination is disappointingly orange. Like seeing the Mona Lisa for the first time, the casual visitor feels any reaction she has may be inadequate to the intellectual and cultural weight of this masterpiece.

How did the Parthenon, or Temple of Athena Parthenos ("the Virgin"), become an icon of the classical, and why does it continue to be scrutinized in minute detail, measured to within a fingernail's thickness, its every sculpted figure subjected to arcane iconographical analysis? One of the reasons is simple: it survives. Like its contemporary down in the Agora, the Hephaisteion, it was adapted to Christian use and so remained virtually intact (until the explosion of 1687). But unlike the Agora temple, the Parthenon retained most of its vast sculptural decoration - a 524-foot frieze, ninety-two metopes, two pediments, and akroteria - and so it became a subject not only for architectural historians but also art connoisseurs. Its iconic status was certainly helped by Lord Elgin's looting of the marbles and their later installation in the British Museum (1816) where they are still viewed by millions of visitors annually.

The Parthenon is also ideally located. After liberation from the Ottomans in 1833, Athens eventually became the capital of Greece and quickly evolved into the metropolis it is today. Like the White House in Washington or the Houses of Parliament in London, the Parthenon sits at the heart of the modern capital and so has become emblematic of its country, past and present. Just as Thucydides (1.10) predicted, the monuments of classical Athens serve to exaggerate its political importance, while its great rival and conqueror Sparta, lacking such magnificent buildings, lies in relative obscurity. Finally, but not least, there is the quality, complexity, and impact of the temple itself - the substance of this book.

Let us begin with impact. The most faithful replica of the Parthenon itself exists today in Nashville, Tennessee (albeit in reinforced concrete),1 but its architectural form has been reprised in buildings as diverse in time and space as the classicizing U.S. Customhouse in New York (1833-42) and the modernist chapel by Le Corbusier in rural France (1955).2 Beginning with Stuart and Revett's monumental publication of the temple and its sculptures (1789),3 Western architects have had access to the plans, elevations, and decorative details of the Acropolis monuments. The discovery in 1838 of some of the so-called refinements of the Parthenon led architects to incorporate features such as curvature into their buildings, and the raging debate over painted versus unpainted architectural sculpture resulted in polychrome decoration on classical revival structures.4 A representative example is the Philadelphia Museum of Art (1916-28), the dolomite walls of which exhibit upward, outward, and inward curvature while its pediments are replete with colorful, life-size sculpted figures of the classical gods.5 Through the sale of casts by the British Museum to other museums and art academies throughout Europe and the United States, the sculptures of the Parthenon have exerted an equally wide-ranging influence on artists of all media.6 A young horse from the west frieze, for example, turns up in a post-impressionist painting done in Tahiti by Gauguin who reviled Greek art.7 The mode of transmission in this case was not a cast but a photograph found in the artist's hut after his death.

Photographs of the Parthenon have contributed greatly to its iconic status. Beginning with daguerrotypes in the 1830s and culminating in Edward Steichen's great gelatin silver print of the dancer Isadora Duncan flanked by the temple columns, the photographic medium has not only documented the state of preservation of the temple and its sculptures at various periods, it has also helped to ossify it in its current configuration, namely, that created by the Greek Archaeological Service in the mid-nineteenth century after the Acropolis was made an official archaeological site. By disseminating the classic view of the Parthenon in an inexpensive medium, modern photography helped to increase tourism to Greece and raise esteem for this particular example of classical architecture.8

The 1830s were clearly a watershed in Parthenon studies: the temple site was reclaimed and cleared of later construction by the newly liberated Greeks; refinements and added color were being recognized for the first time; the sculptures were cast in plaster and widely distributed; the just- invented medium of photography was recording its true likeness in minute detail. In this fixation on the classical phase of the building, its long post-antique history was being destroyed and lost. We tend to lose sight of the fact that for nearly four hundred years (ca. A.D. 1460-1833) the Parthenon was a mosque, and during twice that span (ca. A.D. 600-1458) it served the Christian community of Athens, first as a Byzantine church and later as a Latin cathedral.9 The attentive visitor can still see on the marble walls traces of Latin inscriptions and remnants of frescoes, not to mention the hacking away of the "pagan" figures of the metopes, testifying to the later ecclesiastical function of the building. A bell tower built in the twelfth century still occupies the southern end of the Parthenon's opisthodomos, or rear porch. The mosque and minaret, however, have left few traces in the wake of the demolition of almost all Turkish structures during reoccupation.

What has left indelible damage and major losses is the bombardment of the Parthenon by the Venetians under general Francesco Morosini on September 26, 1687. Serving as the Turks' gunpowder magazine, the Parthenon exploded when hit, sending the marble roof, most of the cella walls, columns from the north and south peristyles, and carved metopes and frieze blocks flying, crashing to the ground and smashed to smithereens. As if that wasn't enough damage (not to mention the loss of human life) Morosini proceeded to loot the building of some of its larger sculptures - yet more horses for Venice - but his faulty tackle snapped, dropping an over life-size Poseidon and the horses of Athena's chariot from the west pediment to the rock of the Acropolis forty feet below.10 Fortunately for art historians thirteen years earlier (1674) Jacques Carrey, an artist in the entourage of a French embassy sent to Athens by Louis ⅩⅣ, made drawings of the pedimental sculptures, the south metopes, and over half of the frieze.11

What Morosini did not manage to take, Lord Elgin's agents stripped in 1801 to 1805. Keen to find antiques to decorate his new house in Scotland, Elgin used his ambassadorial position to obtain a firman (edict) from the sultan allowing his agents to take "some pieces" from the Acropolis. In addition to the fifteen well-preserved metopes from the south side and all but two of the remaining pedimental figures, he removed sixty-seven frieze blocks, the back halves of which were sawed off for ease in transport. In spite of this, the central east - and most important - frieze slab broke in two during loading.12

In light of such depredations it is a wonder that any decoration survives on the Parthenon at all. Occasionally the survival of a sculpture is due to an erroneous identification. One example is the last metope on the north side where the two well-preserved draped women might have been read in Christian times as the angel Gabriel with the Virgin Mary and so were spared.13 Another is the seated group of an embracing man and girl in the west pediment, which was identified as the Roman emperor Hadrian with his wife Sabina and so was left in situ by Elgin's agents. Some fragments of sculpture became buried on the Acropolis after the explosion to be discovered when Greek excavations began in the 1830s; others were embedded into the fortification walls and are still coming to light today.14

The biggest event in the Parthenon's recent history, and one that has and will continue to transform our understanding of this monument, is the ambitious work of the Committee for the Preservation of the Acropolis Monuments that began in 1975. Under the architect Manolis Korres's brilliant direction, restoration work on the Parthenon has resulted in many unexpected insights, such as the fact that there were windows in the east wall of the cella and possibly also a second Ionic frieze. There may have been as many as three predecessors of the building that stands visible today, dating back to the early sixth century B.C.15 New and more accurate measurements of the temple have allowed scholars to understand more fully the extent of the temple's refinements. Newly quarried blocks of Pentelic marble are being shaped to broken pieces to allow the incorporation of original blocks, and sculptures badly ravaged by air pollution have been replaced with resin casts. When this project is complete, we will have a new classical icon to contemplate and study.

Many classical archaeologists have been faulted for being too Athenocentric, and the group of scholars contributing to this volume could well be called "Parthenocentric." It has been my privilege to ask some of the best scholars working on different aspects of the Parthenon, from its ancient setting to its impact on contemporary architecture, to contribute to a comprehensive study of this complex and enduring monument. A new scholarly book devoted to the Parthenon, surprisingly, is long overdue.16 Collectively we hope that this volume will be useful to both students coming to this building for the first time as well as seasoned scholars who want an update on its history and influence. These essays demonstrate various methodological approaches from connoisseurship to digital imaging and show how new finds (such as the Pella hydria or the Agora token) can elucidate lost imagery.17 Most important, these new essays examine the Parthenon in context, whether it be physical (the setting), historical (the Athenian Empire),18 architectural (relation to other buildings), political-religious (sculptural program), or cultural (the Nachleben).

In spite of this learned focus on the Parthenon, many basic issues will remain unresolved. Did the west chamber have Corinthian or Ionic columns? Did the evolving design of the building move from east to west or west to east? What was the role of Perikles? Were there two designers as there were two architects? Why was Pandora, that "beautiful evil," on the base of the chryselephantine statue? And even more basic, was the Parthenon a temple or a treasury? Although these and other questions may remain unanswered for the present, this volume provides the most up-to-date analyses of that most abiding icon of the classical past, the Parthenon.


I wish to thank the students in my graduate seminar on the Parthenon held at Case Western Reserve University in the fall of 2003 for critical reading, helpful commentary, and lively discussion of nearly all the chapters in this volume. As always I greatly appreciate the cheerful and willing technical assistance of Rachel Rosenzweig, without which I would still be chained to my desk. For assistance in securing photographs I thank Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan, and for producing an index Lori Wienke. The Kress Foundation is to be acknowledged for its generous support of the color plates. Last but not least, this project was the brainchild of the senior editor for fine arts, archaeology and classics at Cambridge University Press, Beatrice Rehl, whose vigilance, support, and encouragement brought this edited volume to fruition. Its editor, as well as its authors and readers, owe her a great debt of gratitude.

1. View of the Acropolis from the southwest. Photo: American School of Classical Studies, Alison Frantz Collection AT 71.

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Jeffrey M. Hurwit

In the classic, distant panoramic view of the Acropolis (Fig. 1), the Parthenon stands heroically upon the summit of the rock, like a huge statue upon a pedestal. It is seen in a muscular three-quarter view: both its width and length impress at once, emphasizing not only the sheer mass of the building but also its independent existence in, and in defiance of, space. Its foundations and steps lift it far above the present walls of the citadel (they are basically medieval and later walls), higher than the comparatively puny Erechtheion to the north, far higher than the Propylaia and Nike temple bastion to the west. It stands isolated against the Attic hills and sky, a transfixing point of reference. The rhythm of its solids and voids, its columns and intercolumniations, imposes a measure upon the landscape; its long horizontals seem like corrections to the lines of the Acropolis itself. Its order and power compel Athens to surround it: it takes dominion over citadel and city.

It always did: there is no question that in antiquity, as today, the Parthenon dominated the Attic skyline.1 But the skyline of the Acropolis itself was not then the same: the walls and roofs of buildings no longer standing filled the space between the Propylaia and the Parthenon, and for someone touring the summit, the building's setting was complex and cluttered. The nineteenth-century clearing and reconstruction of the Acropolis left it a composition of four discrete monuments - a clean, spacious marble tableau. The resulting emptiness between the buildings and around the Parthenon allows the modern visitor to move around freely and continually reframe it, unobstructed, in his shifting vision. In antiquity, however, this empty space was not there: from many points of view the Parthenon was at least partly obscured by other buildings, walls, and monuments (Fig. 2). The original setting of the Parthenon to some degree complicated the ancient view and appreciation of it, yet at the same time made its place on the Acropolis richer and more charged: what is partly hidden is more tantalizing than what is fully revealed. Moreover, the setting of the Parthenon in the Classical period - and that setting continually evolved even in the Hellenistic and Roman periods - was not just physical or spatial. It was thematic, too: if the Parthenon was set just off the geographical center of the citadel, it nonetheless stood squarely at the ideological center of a constellation of monuments that pronounced and continually reiterated both the venerability, the antiquity, of the Acropolis, and the power of Athena as a goddess of victory.

2. Reconstruction of the Acropolis from the northwest. Drawing: M. Korres.

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The Approach

The Propylaia marks the end of the Panathenaic Way, the long road that led from the Dipylon gate at the northwest corner of the city, across the Agora, and up the west slope of the Acropolis: its last stretch was a wide, stepped ramp some eighty meters long (Fig. 2). Looming above the ramp, the Propylaia (Fig. 3.1) was clearly meant to prepare the visitor for the experience of the Parthenon: it is a Doric building with interior Ionic columns (like the Parthenon), and its orientation and some of its proportions are too close to those of the Parthenon to be the result of coincidence.2 Suitably prepared, the classical visitor could take any one of five doorways through the Propylaia, and once through he found himself in an open court (Fig. 3.A). But it was not a clear view of the Parthenon that seized his attention then. It was a great bronze Athena, cast by Pheidias ca. 465-455 B.C. from the spoils of war captured from the Persians, that rose some nine meters tall on its base, about forty meters away (Figs. 3.7 and 4); along with other victory monuments it was set against a massive (and far older) terrace wall.3 At this point the visitor had a choice to make. Two paths diverged before him. The narrower one, partly rock cut, veered left: it ran, almost straight, from the northeast corner of the Propylaia, past a roughly triangular area of exposed limestone bedrock above which the Bronze Athena rose, to the north porch of the Erechtheion (Fig. 3.9).4 The other, about eight meters wide for most of its length (it was broader at its start), went right and led up rising terrain - the slope is initially over 13 percent but tapers off to around 6.5 percent5 - through the center of the Acropolis, north of the Parthenon, between two terraces. To someone starting down this sacred path - let us call it Center Street - the view of the Parthenon itself was severely restricted by the walls and roofs of a sequence of buildings and precincts found on the right (south). In addition, there were abundant distractions in the form of monuments and statues on the ground. Any visitor who had approached the Acropolis from afar and had taken in something like the classic panorama (Fig. 1) knew, of course, that the Parthenon was there. But the gratification of reaching it, even of seeing it unencumbered, was for a time delayed.

3. Plan of the Classical Acropolis. Drawing: I. Gelbrich (after Travlos 1971, fig. 91, and Korres 1996), with revisions by the author.

A. Entrance Court

B. Point of "first good view of Parthenon" (see Fig. 6)

C. Approximate location of Attalid Group

1. Propylaia

2. Sanctuary of Athena Nike

5. Sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia

6. Chalkotheke

7. Bronze Athena

9. Erechtheion

10. Pandroseion

11. Opisthodomos?

12. Altar of Athena

13. Parthenon

14. Sanctuary of Zeus Polieus

15. Temple of Roma and Augustus

16. Building IV (Heroon of Pandion?)

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4. Reconstruction of the Bronze Athena by Pheidias. Drawing: D. Scavera.

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© Cambridge University Press

Table of Contents

1. Space and theme: the setting of the Parthenon Jeffery Hurwit; 2. Wealth, power and prestige: classical Athens at home and abroad Lisa Kallet; 3. The architecture and architects of the classical Parthenon Barbara A. Barletta; 4. Bending the truth: curvature and other refinements Lothar Haselberger; 5. A celebration of Victory: the Metopes Katherine Schwab; 6. 'Noblest images on all sides': the ionic frieze Jenifer Neils; 7. Fire from heaven: the pediments and Akroteria Olga Palagia; 8. The statue of Athena and other treasures Kenneth Lapatin; 9. 'Bestride the very peak of heaven': the Parthenon after antiquity Robert Ousterhout; 10. 'Well recorded worth': photographs of the Parthenon Andrew Szegedy-Maszak; 11. The Parthenon in the modern era Richard A. Etlin.

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