There are certain Greek sculptures that I consider perfect. They leave me in complete awe, and completely inspired. Of those, the Elgin Marbles are perhaps the most important and controversial.
Around 1800, Lord Elgin removed over half of the sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens and put them on display in London. For people outside of Greece, these were probably the first examples of Greek sculpture they’d seen. But today, one of the main questions behind the Elgin Marbles is whether or not they should stay in London, or be returned back to Athens. Of course, Greece thinks they should be returned, and the British Museum thinks they should remain in London. Honestly, moving the sculptures is probably what helped them to survive as long as they have. But today, hundreds of millions of dollars are going into the reconstruction of the Parthenon. The Elgin Marbles, which used to surround the top of the temple, need to be considered during this restoration.
In ancient times the Parthenon was a powerful national symbol for Greece and, even now, it still is. The Parthenon sculptures portray both Grecian myth and daily life. The inspiration behind these sculptures, and for the building in general, was to achieve perfect proportion, harmony, and balance. The Parthenon itself was a temple dedicated to Athena, and was built on the Acropolis in the center of the city. Originally, in the heart of the temple, was a statue of Athena herself that was made of gold and ivory. Later, the temple became a treasury, used to finance Greek defense against the Persians. Hundreds of years after that it was used as a Christian Cathedral of the Virgin Mary. And still later, a Turkish Mosque. I think it was sometime around 1670 that the Parthenon was used for munitions storage, until one fine day they exploded, causing the majority of the damage to the structure.
Originally, marble sculpture was everywhere, and it was all painted in reds, blues, and gold. These surrounding sculptures portray all sorts of battles. Between gods and giants, centaurs and soldiers, Athenians and Amazons. This isn’t a surprise, because in the ancient world, Athens was constantly at war. The sculptures are relief cut, but almost free-standing. The human figures themselves stand somewhere around 4 feet tall. Most of the surviving statues have been significantly damaged.
I love this artwork. I’m fascinated with these sculptures. The folds and drapery in the clothing, the gestures and posture, the figures and war-horses. So nice! Probably my favorite though are the fight scenes between the centaurs and the humans. There is something nice about seeing a man punching a drunken centaur in the face.
britishmuseum.org | video