Athens, 450 B.C. After the battle of Plataea, the definitive expulsion of Persians and the "Peace of Callias" a process of building and embellishment of the city is carrying out driven by Pericles. Crowning the Acropolis, the Parthenon works begin at 447-446 B.C. It is dedicated to Athena Parthenos (the Virgin). Apart from religion reasons, the building is a demonstration of civic pride and commemorates achievements of Athens under the patronage of Athena. The sculptural program is run by Phidias that together with an army of stonecutters and apprentices of all skill levels, giving life to metopes, frieze, akroteria and a spectacular pediment, the most crowded of greek art.
|Parthenon at Nashville, 1897|
When I look at the Parthenon, this nineteenth-century version, I remember the words of Alejandro Amenabar in a presentation interview of his film Agora: I wish there were a lock, for whose eye I could see these people life, as they are connected, how laughed and cried, their world. I wish I could look through it, even a single second.
|Parthenon at present|
The truth is quite different. If you ever go through the Propylaea (monumental gateway of the Acropolis) you will find on arriving at Parthenon, only a marble skeleton remains there. Centuries after its construction upon its stylobate people prayed to Jesus Christ and Muhammad and Jacques Carrey drew the pediments, much of the frieze and all the south metopes (Centauromachy) in 1674. In the late seventeenth century a venetian projectile burnt down the turkish powder keg inside the building , blowing everything up. Thus we come to 1812, the date on which Lord Elgin rescued those elements that were on the ground or could be easily removed. 1817, The British Museum buys the marbles to be included in its collection of Greek art. Among its many galleries are preserved sculptures and reliefs made for the decoration of the building although the set is divided by different countries.
Two hundred years later I wander stunned along the halls of the Museum. I've seen the Rosetta Stone, written miracle that facilitated understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs. I have been overwhelmed by Lamassu, animal gods that welcomed and protected the palace of Ninrud. The Nereid Monument is constrained under the roof replacing what was turkish sky. However, my excitement grows when I read the letters on a glass sheet that leads into what I craved the most: "The Parthenon Galleries".
Men, amazons, giants and centaurs make my way to the pediments. Phidias particularly looked after these representations and John Boardman says that by their hands every cloth every face, every knee and every torso emerged . There was no place for learners, there was no place for workshops. Only one master had to shape those reliefs that crowned the most important temple in Athens. Here they are, after 2500 years, before my eyes. I am privileged to contemplate. My position is special, intimate, close. These sculptures were seen from the ground to over 20 meters high. Today I have them in front of me .Just centimeters separate me from Selene horse. I see his veins, his disproportionated eyes as it penetrates into the ground to make way for the Sun. Hermes and Artemis are still present at both events. I imagine the set as a whole, I mentally complete Athena and Poseidon , their grief, their determination which is a culture's determination , a civilization that would change the world.
This post is just an excuse to share with you two short videos I made before the remains of both pediments. The West: the contest between Athena and Poseidon during their competition for the honor of becoming the city's patron, more deteriorated and fragmented and the East: the birth of Athena from the head of her father, Zeus, best preserved . Besides these videos, I show an image with drawings by Carrey (according to the historian Ernst Berger) that serve to contextualize fragments exposed in the British (marked with a red circle).
Many more things could be said now as describing the chosen theme or giving my opinion whether or not the marbles should stay in London . If you want to find out more, just do it. The history of representation, according to Hogarth, consists of three essential steps (at least until the arrival of abstract art) These are: Ancient Greece, the invention of perspective and the advent of Constable It is without a doubt in ancient Greece when the picture became more anthropocentric. The gods never had seemed both men and beautiful women, athletic with determination and courage. The beauty in their shapes was the beauty of their justice , his impartiality ,his perfection. It is therefore not surprising that the advocate of Parthenon works was Pericles, politician and orator of Athens. He encouraged Phidias to shape the gods governing Hellas. Gods that we are privileged to see from a privileged position. From the Olympic Zeus to the provincial tanagras, each representation has been revered by generations before reaching our secular eyes.
This is Art, This is History much more important than us, much more essential. Today was Phidias. Tomorrow is Hokusai. 2014. Happy New Year.
One must pity those who lack contact with this heritage of the past. One must be so grateful that one can listen to Mozart and look ar Velazquez and must be sorry for those who cannot.