Floor | Greek Art
Parthenon Statue of Athena Parthenos Gallery
The elaborate sculptural decoration of the exterior of the Parthenon, completely new and unique on a Doric temple, may have surprised some visitors. But at least it employed the traditional transition between the world of gods, heroes, and humans from the pediment to the metopes to the frieze. The view into the interior, on the other hand, must have been completely overwhelming. There the ancient visitor encountered the masterpiece of Pheidias, a 12-meter tall statue of Athena made of gold and ivory (a technique known as chryselephantine, from the ancient Greek words for gold and ivory). With its enormous dimensions, it seemed almost to burst through the cult space—what a difference from the old, much smaller traditional cult image of Athena made of olive wood and kept in the Erechtheion! For a conservative, religious Athenian, therefore, the Athena Parthenos may have been a provocation, even more so for an out-of-town visitor: the goddess’ golden dress and accessories were attached to a wooden framework and were thus removable, so that the gold could be melted down in an emergency. The gold came from the treasury of the Delian League. The members of the federation were obliged to make annual payments, and visitors to the Acropolis would certainly have noted with great discomfort that their gold adorned the robe of the patron goddess of Athens, thus clearly expressing who was in charge of the alliance.