Delphi-The Treasury of the Athenians

By admin ~ January 26th, 2012 @ 12:13 am

The most exquisite feature of the edifice, though, is the frieze. On the west side, it depicts the judgement of Paris, on the south the rape of the Leukippidai by the Dioskouroi, on the east an assembly of gods, who watch a battle of the Trojan War, and on the north which is the finest and best preserved section of the entire frieze, the Gigantomachy. Here we see the gods fighting hard to defeat the Giants, who are attacking from the right, wearing heavy armoury: helmets and shields, and in some cases breastplates and greaves; their weapons are spears, swords and stones.

The left section of the frieze is taken up by the gods. On the extreme left, Hephaistos, wearing the short chiton of a craftsman, is shown standing in front of his fellows and preparing his red hot bolts. Next come two goddesses, Demeter and Kore; then Dionysos, wearing a panther skin, and Kybele riding a chariot drawn by lions. Then come Leto’s beloved children, Apollo and Artemis, shooting arrows at their opponents; they are facing a warrior with a kantharos on his helmet: he is the Giant Kantharos. The next section of the frieze which has been damaged, showed Zeus riding his chariot. Hera and Athena have survived, in a good state of preservation; next to them Ares is wearing a helmet and holding a shield; Hermes follows, wearing the conical cap of Arkadian shepherds; finally, come Poseidon and Amphitrite, but only fragments of the lower part of their bodies have survived.

The sculptor who produced the Gigantomachy and the battle between the Greeks and the Trojans must have been one of the great artists of his age, endowed with a powerful and daring imagination, unique technical skill and a deep awareness of the difficulties of relief sculpture. It is enough to notice the extraordinary rendering of the successive surfaces of the figures, which though frequently intertwined, always remain clearly distinct from each other. The impetus of the conflict and the mingling of the adversaries is reproduced with great power and intensity, without however damaging the clarity of form and the easy, flowing rhythm which carries us from left to right and back again, with admirable skill, in a movement not unlike the ebb and flow of a wave. But apart from its power and robust expressiveness, the frieze retains its decorative character; it is a sensitive arrangement and exploitation of a surface demanding to be filled, an impressive, but also festive development of the theme, with all the spiritual exaltation appropriate to the sacred site of Delphi.

The Treasury of the Athenians: There is a third treasury, which has survived in a fairly good condition and has been restored in situ with very few additions: it is the treasury which the Athenians dedicated to the sanctuary during the last years of the 6th century B.C., soon after the establishment of democracy in their city (508 B.C.). Only a few fragments remain from the pediments; but of the metopes there are enough left to enable us to reconstruct their themes almost in their entirety. On the main sections – i.e., the facade and the south side, which was more exposed to public view, there are representations of the exploits of Theseus, whom the Athenians regarded as the legendary founder of democracy; at the back of the treasury and on the north side we see the labours of Herakles. These reliefs are a good example of Attic sculpture during the last phase of the Archaic period, and they bring to the spectator’s mind the early, red-figured vase-paintings of that time, with their elegant figures, lightly-balanced proportions, firm and spirited movement, daring postures, flexible contours, careful and thoroughly studied rendering of muscles and draperies.
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