RELIEF SCULPTURE (A Shorter History of Greek Art -Martin Robertson)

1. Beginnings

(a) Temple at Prinias in Crete (middle or later 7th Century BC) - somewhere on outside was a frieze of armed horsemen; and over doorway in from the porch was a stone beam with animals in low relief on its outer face and, seated above it, 2 statues of godesses (or a goddess) facing each other, these statues also carved in very low relief on the underside of the beam, standing frontal and looking down at one. (NB Not a Doric temple -but simple, early design).

(b) Doric temple of Mycenae -carved fragments -possibly metopes - most interesting shows the upper part of a woman wrapped in a cloak , who was evidently standing in profile but turns her Daedlic face to us. Carving is quite deep, and the frontality is surely because the sculptor, used to working figures in the round , felt that this is how a carved figure should look.

(c) Temple of Artemis on Kerkyra (Corcyra, Corfu) -1st decade or two of 6th century. Outer metopes left plain. Both pediments carved and much of one remains. In the centre a huge Gorgon (some 10' high), kneels or runs; a swastica-like arrangement of the limbs, the rear knee almost on the ground is a regular archaic formula for swift motion. At either side of her lies a leopard, face turned to us like hers. The 3 big creatures dominate the composition, but around them are introduced small figures. Next to Gorgon are a winged horse and a youth, who again looks out at us. Behind the leopard on the left a man now lost thrust a spear at seated figure, behind whom a corpse lies, his bearded head in e corner turned to face us. At the other end a beardless Zeus in near-profile brandishes a thunderbolt against a kneeling figure who again turns his bearded face towards us, and in the angle beyond must have lain another corpse. Masonry is traced on the background by the seated figure and a tree by the other group .
Singular mixture alike of scales and of subjects. Gorgon and beasts with their "terror-masks" are apotropaic, guardians-protective role (NB Head of Medusa, cut off by Perseus with Athena's help and thereafter worn by the goddess on her aegis . As Medusa died the winged horse Pegasus and son Chrysaor sprang from the severed neck). Figure with thunderbolt -Zeus. Enthroned figure = Priam? -> Battle of Gods and Giants + Sack of Troy. Seated figure = Rhea, Mother of the Gods? -> both scenes from Battle of Gods and Giants. No connection with story of Medusa. Guardian symbols giving way to narrative scenes from myth and legend. Big creatures stand quite high from background, but this depth of cuttinng is only to make the contours clear -surface = flat plane, details lightly modelled or engraved on it. Small figures cut to equal depth -considered as statues. Complicated postures are such as no free-standing statue of the time could show, and the sculptor has had great difficulties -Transitions are extremely awkward and the modelling angular.

(d) Metopes -Treasury of the Sicyonians (Delphi) (2nd quarter of 6th century) - length almost half as great again as their height, which is nearly 2 feet.
(1) Calydonian boar.
(2) Europa forcefully hunched over the bull's neck like a jockey -both are carved in a basically flat plane parallel with the background, like the big creatures from Corfu though the modelling here is subtler.
(3) Dioscuri (Castor and Polydeuces) rustling cattle with the sons of Aphareus (one is missing; the names are written beside them). The artist has created marvellous pattern out of the limbs of beasts and men and superposed in parallel planes stepped back to the ground and punctuated by the frontal heads of the near oxen -a sophisticated and brilliantly succesful design.
(4) Less successful, but even bolder. The side of a ship, the Argo. Shields along the gunwale, lies in a plane parallel to the background. In it stand 2 heroes playing the lyre (one no doubt Orpheus; a 3rd figure is lost), and at either end, outside the ship, a horseman, the Dioscuri again: and all these figures are absolutely frontal like statues. The difficulties of realisation have not been overcome entirely, but in a rigid and primitive form this is truly the concept of high relief: statues in the round grouped in a 2-dimensional composition.

(e) Metopes from large Doric temple at Selinus in Sicily (mid 6th century). All the figures in the 3 complete metopes and many in fragments of others turn their faces directly to us, in total disregard of the action they are taking part in, as though smiling at the camera. Compare this rendering of Heracles carrying off the Kerkopes (mischievous goblins who had annoyed him) with the same scene on a (sandstone) metope from a building at Foce del Sele on the west coast of Italy not far from Paestum, a santuary of Hera. The figures here are carved in a flat plane and in the profile view normal in low relief, which much better illustrates the narrative (1st half of 6th century). Gables of Selinus temple were adorned with huge Gorgon-masks in moulded and painted terracotta. Painted terracota decorations for architecture = very common in archaic period and later. (NB terracotta metopes from temples at Calydon and Thermon in Aetolia -c630). Also acroterion (fragments) from Acropolis of Athens - a Gorgon in marble (probably in kneeling posture).

2. Ripe Archaic Art

Age of Peisistratos (made himself tyrant early in second quarter of 6th century -> interruptions) -> expulsion of Hippias in 510. Patrons of the arts and Acropolis became covered with dedications and decorated buildings (thrown down by Persian invaders in 480).

(a) Most of the architectural sculpture from the Acropolis is in limestone: pediments, some from small buildings, some from large temples. The small ones show mythological scenes but from the temples are several groups of lions pulling down bulls; terror-symbols analagous to the Gorgons and leopards at Corfu. The latest of these (very fine) was probably flanked by 2 mythological groups: Heracles and Triton, and a three-bodied man-snake of uncertain identity (2nd quarter of 6th Century) -cf statue of calf-bearer dedicated by one Rhombos. Limestone sculpture is covered with paint - colouring is unnaturalistic -eg blue beard.

(b) Last Archaic temple on the Acropolis, built by the Sons of Peisistratos (c 520?) had marble pediments, one a group of lions and bull, the other a battle of Gods and giants; fine work, but horribly ruined.

(c) Not much later the temple of Apollo at Delphi was rebuilt. The contractors were a rich aristocratic family of Attica, the Alkmaionidai, exiled for opposition to Persiatratos, and they evidently employed an Attic artist. The west pediment, a Gigantomachy, was in limestone, but the east front was finished in marble. Pediment showed a rather stilted composition: a frontal chariot, probably an epiphany of the god, flanked by kouroi and korai, groups of lions pulling down stags in the corners. The korai, and a fine Nike-acroterion, are strikingly like the big kore 681 from the Acropolis (signed by Antenor).

3. Late Archaic architectural marbles.

(a) Siphinian Treasury at Delphi (525BC) -Ionic in character thought it lacks the typical capitals, since instead of columns in the porch it had 2 Caryatids: supports in the form of girls, here canonical korai of immense elaboration. Pediments' sculptures - front = lost; rear = markedly inferior to rest of work. Superb frieze.

(1) West frieze - 3 slabs -Hermes at left end holds winged horses of Athena's chariot which she is mounting; on central slab another goddess (almost certainly Aphrodite), steps down from a chariot which faces the other way. Southern slab is lost -3rd chariot?? Chariots and horses are designed in strict profile and carved with great skill in a series of recessed planes parallel to the background (same designer clearly at work on fragments of long south frieze).
(2) Long north frieze shows a Gigantomachy -defaced signature on one Giant's shield -sculptor responsible for north and east friezes -different master from west and south. Here recessed planes are used in places, but more than they are broken up by bold three-quarterings and massings which give a quite different sense of the third dimension. The depth of carving is not significantly different, but this artist is clearly strongly influenced by the concept of high relief evolved in metope-sculpture. Design and execution throughout are of the highest quality; but while the artist of West and South is an untroubled archaic, the other is in the vain of those whose innovations were to lead to the classicial revolution.
(3) East frieze has a combat before Troy (some painted names of heroes can still be read), and an assembly of gods no doubt disputing its outcome. The combat is flanked by chariots which present the sharpest possible contrast with those of south and west. The teams are shown as through turning into three quarter view, the characters appearing behind them, and the chariots are not carved at all but finished in paint on the background in bold foreshortening. Painters were no less involved than sculptors in the breakdown of archaic conventions, and this shows how closely they could work together. Here one would think, and perhaps often, they were the same men. Combat on right, assembly on the left; and looked at in isolation this abrupt division of the continuous frieze appears awkward -but position on Sacred Way = vital.

(b) Athenian Treasury (end of 6th century or beginning of 5th century) -it stands on a terrace the top step of which bears an inscription recording a dedication for the victory over the Persians at Marathon in 490. Pausanias thought this applied to the building. Some scholars follow him, but the step certainly carried offerings, and the style of the building-sculptures is often felt too early for that date. Monument of the new democracy, immediately after the expulsion of Hippias in 510? or c500? Marble building = Doric -acroteria, pediments (badly ruined), and full circuit of 30 metopes, 6 on each end, 9 down each side. Themes = deeds of Heracles and Theseus and Amazonomachy?, presumably that at Themiscyra, city of the Amazons, where Theseus accompanied Heracles on his quest for Hippolyta's girdle and himself brought back an Amazon bride, Antiope. Theseus = propaganda-figure for the Athenian democracy. Carving, of superlative quality, shows 2 styles, analogous to the 2 styles on the Siphnian treasury though the difference here is less marked. Some metopes, for instance the beautiful and comparatively well preserved Heracles and the hind, show a precise, linear definition of forms in the archaic tradition. The broader, freer modelling in others, such as the Theseus and Amazon, looks forward to the classical style. The tight circle of the composition in the hind metope is relaxed here too, and the tilted heads inform the figures with a tragic emotion lacking in the other. All however show the full development of the idea of high relief: figures given the bodily roundness of statues but grouped in pictorial compositions against the background to which they are attached. Metopes are small, not much more than 2 feet high.

(c) Temple of Apollo at Eretria in Euboea - pediment (end of 6th century) -Theseus is shown again lifting Antiope into his chariot (over life-size group). The complexity of action and posture demonstrates the liberties sculptors were prepared to take with archaic conventions in the context of gable-structure. The execution is elaborate almost to the point of fussiness or mannerism, in strange contrast to the bold strength of form and movement. The rare story, part of the new Athenian Theseus legend, is briefly popular on Attic vases at just this time. Ath. and Eretria -2 cities of west of Aegean only which sent help to the Ionians in their ill-fated revolt of 498 against the Persians, and were the object of Persian vengeance in 490. The 2 cities were evidently closely linked; and one might possibly see, in the apparent contradiction here between structure and detail, an Athenian artist's design executed by craftsmen trained in another tradition. Also upper torso of Athena, who occupied the centre of the gable. Theseus and Antiope are finely finished all round; but the back of Athena is left rough (an important document for archaic technique) and she clearly stood in the old formal kore-pose. One might be surprised to find Athena dominating the pediment of a temple of Apollo. It was the rear gable, but in any case the Greeks seem to have been less concerned than we should expect to relate the decoration closely to the temple's deity. Athena bears on her breast here a huge Gorgoneion, which perhaps deliberately recalls the terror-mask at the centre of early pediments; but the goddess is present here probably as part of the legendary scene: the hero's divine helper -cf near-contemporary Attic cup (Theseus in Amphitrite's underwater palace, Athena assisting -ARFV -Onesimos).

(d) Temple of Aphaea on Aegina, dedicated to Aphaea, a local deity associated with Artemis rather than Athena. (See other notes}


1. Temple of Aphaia on Aegina (Aphaia = local deity associated with Artemis rather than Athena.) Sculptural work on this temple is clearly on the border of archaic and classical (therefore probably first quarter of Sth century BC). The temple was Doric. It had acroteria (at the centres elaborate florals supported by small korai, sphinxes at the outer angles); metopes not carved but perhaps painted panels; and marble pediments, each with a battle, Athena in the centre. Almost certainly these illustrate the two sieges of Troy: by Heracles over the east front and the Homeric in the west. Heracles was accompanied by Telamon, an Aeginetan hero whose son Ajax was prominent in the 2nd siege. The style of the west is pure archaic and distintively earlier than that of the east. The example of the Delphic treasuries shows that it is not safe to assume that it is actually earlier in date, but it probably is so. There is evidence that the present east gable is a replacement, made very soon, for another, likewise with a battle, which seems then to have been set up on a base in the sanctuary, its centre acroterion also. The remains of these figures resemble the present west pediment in style. This raises questions at present unanswerable, and complicated by the existence of a second long base in the sanctuary which seems to have supported a pursuit-scene (possibly Zeus and the nymph Aegina on whom he begot Aiakos (or Aeacus), Telamon's father); and this might have been a first west pediment. Final versions only to be considered here.
The Athena of the west stands almost as a kore, only her left foot is turned to the side. The battle rages on either side of her in two self-contained halves which balance each other closely: a combat; an archer shooting towards the angle; a crouching figure despatching a fallen one; a figure, his head towards the angle, struck down by the bowman's shaft; and beyond him, in the corner, gear (a shield, a helmet). At a glance the design of the east looks similar, but it is both less crowded and knit more subtly into a whole. Athena (largely lost) moved to her left, aegis stretched out before her. In the combats on either side of her the outer figure falls back and another bends swiftly forward to support him. The archers face inwards, shooting across the composition into the opposite angle where the stricken victim lies, his feet towards the corner. The figures on the west still wear the archaic smile. It has faded from the lips of those in the east, and the dying man on the right has his teeth bared and one eye half closed; a kind of realism found in some late archaic and early classical vase-painting and sometimes in sculpture too. Many of the figures were excavated in the early 19th century and acquired by Ludwig I of Bavaria, for whom some were heavily restored and arbitrarily grouped by the neoclassical Danish sculptor Thorwaldsen. At the end of the century Furtwrangler made a new excavation, finding many more pieces, and he went far towards recoving the compositions on paper. Lately Ohly excavated further and also removed Thorwaldsen's restorations, and succeeded in arranging the surviving remains in what must be very close indeed to the original scheme. In particular the shooting Heracles from the east illustrate the beauty of these carvings. Most pedimental sculpture has a weighty, massive character. The sinewy elegance of these figures is unusual, and has perhaps to do with the fact that the Aeginetan sculptors are recorded as preeminent in bronze-fine bronze head from Acropolis of Athens very similar to the gable-figure (in style).

2. Temple of Zeus at Olympia (470-457 BC) - Pediments -The gods in the central position are some 10' high and all the figures well over life-size (cf the metopes -c 5' wide and only a little higher, so the relief figures are under life-size). None is completely lost, and many are quite well preserved; and we can get a good idea of the overall composition of each pediment. On the east pediment the composition draws its inspiration from the myth of the chariot race between Pelops and Oenomaus. We see all the characters of the drama just before the beginning of the race; the two teams, Oenomaus and Sterope on the one side, Pelops and Hippodameia on the other, and next to them, the chariots and charioteers. Between the 2 teams, the imposing figure of Zeus forms the axis of the pediment. The "severe harmony" has never found a more appropriate aesthetic form; the vertical lines of the characters and the spears create a ponderous, hieratic atmosphere of tragedy in the centre of the composition, while on either side the chariots and the kneeling or reclining figures act as a frame, thus strikingly combining 2 elements that not only function differently, but antithetically (vertical v horizontal); there is the same antithesis between the broad, clear surfaces of the central figures, which are conceived idealistically, as superhuman beings, and the realistic gestures and postures of the secondary figures. The west pediment depicts a Centauromachy during which the Centaurs, invited to the wedding of Peirithous, a Lapith hero, get drunk and try to abduct the bride, Deidameia, and the other women present. This composition differs totally from the one on the east pediment. The incomparable figure of Apollo in the centre is the only one to maintain the vertical majesty of divine quietude; on his left and right, we see Theseus and Peirithoos, and then groups of Lapith men and women grappling with centaurs, in a rhythmical and impetuous alternating movement, literally caused by opposite tensions, as it fluctuates incessantly from the centre to the two ends and back again, like the ebb and flow of the sea. The scenes depicted here are unequivocally violent, and the antithesis between the smooth virginal beauty of the girls and the bestial deformity of the Centaurs remains unbridgeable. The contrast between the pediments is quite obvious to the spectator. On the east pediment, everything has come to a standstill, as if with suspended breath; forces are poised in expectation of the tragic conflict. On the west pediment, the conflicting forces have come to grips and are now locked in deadly combat. And yet both pediments are but a supreme expression, in plastic terms, of the tragic element. The power of tragedy is equally perturbing in both; it is only the expression that differs, in its selection of a different phase in the drama. On the east pediment everything forebodes the coming catastrophe; the bride, who has broken away from her father's group to take up her position at her future husband's side already announces its outcome. On the west pediment, the imposing figures of the two heroes standing on either side of the great god of light, assure us that they will victoriously oppose the criminal violence of the Centaurs, with the help of the blessing expressed by the god's outstretched hand. "In the quiet scene (of the east pediment) every figure, with the exception of the chariot-horses, is designed and carved as a separate statue. On the west, between the still central figure and those reclining in the angles, the strugglers are divided into 3 groups on each wing: 2 groups of 3 figures each separated by a short one of two. These groups are wholes, within which most figures cannot be detached either in execution or design from the others. Exceptions are the 2 heroes in the groups nearest the centre."