Tuesday 11 November 2008

The Parthenon Frieze

click here to be taken to the Hellenic Ministry of Culture digital presentation of the frieze.

THE DATE OF THE PARTHENON FRIEZE by Matthew I. Wiencke, Dartmouth College.

The building inscription and literary sources indicate that construction on the Parthenon was begun in the archonship of Timarchides in 447/6. By 442/1 the outer colonnade and architrave were in place and the columns fluted; in 438/7 the statue of Athena Parthenos was dedicated and the work of construction virtually complete. But not so the sculptured ornament. Nearly half the receipts for the year 434/3 were paid out in wages to the sculptors, and similar payments may have followed in the final year.
There is no doubt about the early date of the metopes, since it must coincide with the completion of the colonnade. Last to be set in place are the gable sculptures, to which the expenditure of 434/3 is generally believed to refer. But what of the frieze? The accounts which might have recorded that expenditure are lost. Conceivably it was designed and carved at varying times between 442 and 432.
On the east and west sides of the frieze the composition is independent of the long sides and the style relatively more severe. If these reliefs were carved in the sculptors' workshops before the blocks were set in place, they must be prior to 438. The earlier date generally assigned them is not incompatible with this theory. No such possibility exists for the long sides, because the overlapping of figures not only requires them to be carved directly on the building, but to be designed there as well. Do they constitute a later addition to the decorative scheme, carried out after 438?
The arguments for the later date and augmented plan rest on the internal evidence of design and style.The long processionals are thematically complete and intelligible without necessary reference to the array of men and horses on the west and to the ceremony of the peplos on the east side. More striking are the qualities of emotion and energy in South I-V and XXIX-XXX ("Ruskin's horses"), which are wholly new to fifth-century sculpture. These innovations reflect a development in Greek art which occurred in the course of the carving of the frieze. They are indicative of the change in the intellectual and artistic life of Athens during the decade 442-432, marked by the rise of the Sophistic movement and the development of the drama from the Antigone to the Medea. The Parthenon frieze reflects not so much a common "classical" style as an organic and developing art.

[American Journal of Archaeology, vol.67, no.2, April 1963, p.219]