What problems were posed for Greek sculptors by pediments, and how did they overcome these problems? Your answer should include detailed reference to at least two pediments from different temples.
The pediments selected for discussion span the Early Archaic (Temple of Artemis at Corfu 590 to 580 BC), the transition from Archaic to Early Classical (the Aphaia temple on Aegina end of sixth/early fifth century BC) and the Early Classical (Temple of Zeus at Olympia (from c465 BC).
The challenges facing pediment sculptors were considerable: choice of subject matter coherence and decorative effect, effective use of the awkward field, especially the narrow spaces towards the comers, and scale. The earliest example illustrates the problems well. The central figure of Medusa some 3m tall dominates. She is shown with her children, Pegasus and Chrysaor, although, according to the myth, they were not bom until after her death. The Gorgon is shown in the running/kneeling pose characteristic of the early Archaic period, which helps to fill the central space. Reclining panthers on either side of her reflect the diminishing height of the field, and towards the comers smaller scenes from quite separate stories help to occupy the space. To Medusa's right, Priam is killed, and a dead Trojan(?) fills the extreme angle; on her left, Zeus blasts a giant, and a body again occupies the angle.
The sculptor has made the subject matter intelligible and used the awkward field effectively. However, there are three separate stories here, at least, with no attempt to relate them. Similarly, the artist has not attempted to unify the scale. Therefore, in spite of the effectiveness of the decoration and the richness of the narrative, this 'singular mixture of scales and subjects' (Robertson) leaves the problems of coherence and scale to later sculptors.
At the end of the sixth/beginning of the fifth century BC, the Aphaia pediments from Aegina illustrate how far these problems have been solved. These 'latest and best preserved of all Archaic pediments', 'on the border of the Archaic and Classical' (Robertson) feature very similar subjects. On the earlier (west) pediment, scenes from the Homeric expedition to Troy are shown, while the later (east)pediment features the earlier expedition, led by Herakles.
The subject matter allows for a variety of pose and movement. The east pediment is rather less crowded with figures yet more subtly knit e.g. the movement of Athena. Kneeling bowmen suit the diminishing height towards the corners, and dying warriors fill the extreme angles. The subject matter of these pediments is coherent, and the problem of scale has been solved.
The finest example of Early Classical pediments belong to the temple of Zeus at Olympia ('the fullest and most splendid expression of the first phase of Classical art' Robertson). The east pediment portrays the tense moments before the chariot race between Pelops and Oinomaos. The sculptor has presented a tightly bound scene, unimpaired by the restrictions of the space. The central scene depicts Zeus, occupying the highest point at the apex, flanked by the two competitors and the women involved. On either side of this group were the horses and chariots, and beyond them sitting or kneeling servants; the gods representing the two rivers which flow past the sanctuary fill the comers. This is a beautifully calculated design of coherent narrative and scale. The Early Classical artist has not only made effective use of the space available but bound the figures together psychologically: e.g. the confident Oinomaos, who appears to be explaining the competition, and the younger Pelops, listening intently. We notice also the indifferent slave boy, playing with his toes, and the contrasting mood of the anxious seer. The west pediment is symmetrically composed around the central Apollo, rather like the Aphaia pediments. Nearly all the figures are interlocked in a variety of poses, filling the space and presenting a coherent subject.
From this we see that by the end of the Archaic Period pediment sculptors were capable of producing coherent designs to make effective use of the awkward space, and the problem of scale had been solved. The Early Classical sculptors brought to their work the emotion which was to be fully exploited in the High Classical Period.
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