Monday, March 27, 2017

The Parthenon and an Intro to the Acropolis (Video and Text) AP and Survey Art History


Quick Time Line: 
Geometric Period     1050 BCE - 700 BCE (700 BCE)  
Orientalizing Period     700 BCE - 600 BCE (600 BCE)  
Archaic Period     600 BCE - 480 BCE (600 BCE) 
The Golden Age of Perikles (Classic Phase) 480-350 BCE (450) 
Late Hellenism 350-30 BCE

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The Acropolis, Athens, Greece.  
450 BCE The Classic Era  

Architects and artists: Iktinos, Kallikrates and Mnesicles were the main architects for the complex. Phidias was one of the sculptor/painters responsible for the design of much of the ornamentation. 

The Acropolis

Context:  Located on the highest point in Athens, Greece, the Acropolis was first constructed as a fortress/governmental palace for the king or Anax around 1000 BCE.  However, after the Athenian defeat of the Persian army, the city embarked on a new Classical Era and began to rebuilt the site.  The version we now know dates from 450 BCE, which is sometimes referred to as the "Golden Age of Perikles", the Athenian leader at the time.  There are many acropolai (the plural for Acropolis) in Greece; however, the one in Athens is the most famous in existence.

The Acropolis is equivalent to our modern day civic center. On it there were galleries, temples, a bank and at its base was a marketplace and two theaters. Temples were included because religion and patriotism were combined. There was no separation of church and state as in our government; however, like us, the Athenians were a democratic culture. At the base of the Acropolis are markets called "stoas" where merchants would sell their goods. Philosophers would rent out stoas to preach their beliefs and pass out pamphlets.

The term "acropolis" is actually two words placed together. "Acro" means high and "polis" means city: so the Acropolis of Athens is the highest point of the city. Although the Acropolis was originally established around 1000 BCE, the Acropolis and the buildings on it we are most familiar with were renovated during the leadership of the Greek General named Perikles. The Greek period we will be discussing the most is between 480-400 BCE.


Perikles, who fought as a general in the Persian War (c480 BC), returned home to find that his city and most of the Acropolis had been destroyed by the Persians in his absence. Perikles took it upon himself to rebuild the city and to do so he founded an alliance of city states in 478 BC called the Delian League. The money from the Delian League was the primary source of funding for the reconstruction of the Acropolis.

Around 480 BCE, Sparta, Athens, and Corinth formed the League of Delos(1) (equivalent to or modern day NATO). The Greek island Delos was originally the "bank" for the League; however, Perikles, a great economist, wanted Athens to be the treasury of the Delos League. He knew that the island would boost the economy of Athens and once he found the ACropolis completely destroyed, he used the money from the Delos League to rebuild it.

A good way to understand Perikles and his role in Athens is to read "Perikles’ Funereal Oration" which was recorded by the Greek historian Thucydides.  Find it in Mencher, Liaisons 49, 87-90 (Thucydides: Perikles' Funeral Oration) 


Context: The Panathenaic Procession 

This next section will be in the order of the procession in which the Athenian celebration would have encountered the buildings of the Acropolis.  The term Panathenaic literally means "all of Athens." "Pan"- Means "all" and is also associated with the god of all the woods, "athenaic" - Athenian.


Although the Acropolis was home to a polytheistic (many gods) culture, the majority of the complex was devoted to Athena, the goddess of wisdom and the main goddess of the city. Below is the basic plan of the Acropolis, its buildings and the two theaters at its base. Along the perimeter of the hill on which it is perched is a pathway, marked in gray. On certain festival days, every four years, the entire town of Athens came out and took the long route around the Acropolis to its top which is known as the "Panathenaic Procession." 

For all the videos in order with a textbook and study guides please visit:


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This procession would begin in Athens's Agora  take the Panathenaic way and pass by the Herodean Theater continuing on past the Theater of Dionysus all the way around the base of the hill and finally ending with entry into the Propylaia, also known as the Pinakotheke.  By moving all the way around the hill instead of just walking up, each Athenian could understand the magnificence of this sacred high point. The journey would end at the Parthenon where the Athenians who had made the trek would leave their offering to the goddess Athena.




Form: These Athenian theaters follow the same design as the theater at Epidauros (see Marylin Stokstad "Art History" 5-72).  The design is a symmetrical hemisphere (half circle) that is arranged similarly to modern day stadiums and can seat nearly 12,000 people.  The stone material and the shape of the theater allowed the sound of the actors, who stood in the orchestra, to be heard throughout the theater.  The actors entered onto the orchestra from the parados (wings).  Behind them was usually a static building that was the backdrop called the skene.   This backdrop had no ornamentation or painting and was fairly simple.  In fact, props were kept to a minimum on the stage. 


Iconography:  The theater itself was an important place for Athenians to gather and although it was probably not designed to be a symbol of civic pride, it developed a similar meaning to our stadiums and theaters within our own towns.  One modern example would be Oakland's "Coliseum."

Context: Theater and performance of Greek Tragedy and Comedy were an important component in the lifestyle of the Athenians. The theater was a place in which stories, mythology, and cultural values were conveyed and ideas were explored. The theater also served as an important social setting and helped the economy by bringing in tourists for festivals. The fact that a theater was devoted to the god Dionysus indicates the importance of the ideas and values personified by him. Dionysus (also called Bacchus) was the god of drama and of wine. In essence he was the god of liberation.  Theater was considered a type of liberation and served as a great distraction from the outside difficulties of the ancient world.

"Ancient tragic drama was a public event done in large scale. At Athens the Theater of Dionysus, built against the steeply rising east slope of the Acropolis, was large enough to accommodate fourteen to seventeen thousand people. This group sat together on benches without divisions so that as arms, legs, and haunches touched, emotions could race through the audience. A large crowd is characteristically animal. Probably it was in reaction to the natural volatility of a crowd that the Athenian assembly passed a law making an outright and provocative disturbance during a performance a capital offense. The setting offered little form of crowd control. Performances were out of doors, in daylight, continuous, starting at dawn in a large arena where there must have been constant movement, as at present-day sporting events or a Chinese opera. People leaving to relieve themselves, hawkers selling food, these were moving elements of the panorama as much as the actors and the chorus".

(Charles Rowan Beye, Ancient Greek Literature and Society 
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975 and 1987) 127-128.
One of the most important festivals in Athens focused on the performance of Greek drama. The festival named the City Dionysia or Greater Dionysia which took place in late March was an important event dedicated to the god Dionysus.


Form:  The physical form of the Greek theater strongly influenced the manner in which the plays were written and performed.  The actual components of a Greek play echo the physical form and symmetry of the theater itself.

Components of Greek tragedy and the structure of the Greek tragedy  This is the order of a play's performance, how each one of the acts is structured and what it contains.

prologos (prologue) This is the opening scene in which an opening monologue or dialogue is presented.  This establishes the background information in the play and also introduces the "conflict," by outlining some events to follow.  The prologos therefore is like the skene or setting because it provides the background information.

parados  The name for the wings of the stage on which the chorus stands and comments.  The parados is also the name for when the chorus enters, chanting a lyric.  Think of the word parody from our culture.  A parody is a commentary on a text that we are usually familiar with.

episode This is similar to individual acts in a play.  These usually consist of dialogues between actors, which are complimented by choral odes known as the stasimon.  The episode is similar to the central location of the main action that occurs on the orchestra.

stasimon The choral ode that usually comes at the end of each episode.  It is a type narrative in which the chorus summarizes the action and hints at what will happen next.  This is the instant replay and contains pretty much the same information as the parados.

exodos This is the last stasimon which accompanies the action and the ceremonial exit of the actors from the stage.  This could also be referred to as an ending stasimon.

Dionysus in a Boat by Exekias 
Interior of an Attic black-figured kylix 
c 540 BCE diameter 12" 
Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich 
Archaic, Black-figure


Form:  The interior of this symmetrical, yet balanced kylix (wine cup) was decorated in black-figure style with the figure of the Greek god Dionysus in a boat.  Out of the deck of the boat springs a grape vine and surrounding the ship are several dolphins or porpoises.  The figures are painted with a slit watered-down clay over the red, therefore creating that black-figure style  The ground of the vessel is the natural red of the clay and the sail is heightened with white glaze.  The scraffito technique is used as a means to bring out the details with an etching tool.

Iconography: It makes perfect sense that a wine vessel would be decorated with an image of the Greek god of wine, theater and ecstatic liberation, Dionysus.  (The Romans called him Bacchus.)  The grape vine represents his role as the god of wine and the dolphins are probably transformed sailors who committed an act of hubris against the god in one of the myths that precede the story told by the Greek tragic play The Bacchae (also called the Bacchic women).  The "lucky" number of seven figures into the symbolism with seven dolphins and seven bunches of grapes.

Context: Origin of Dionysus.  (See Mencher "Liaisons" 49-86 (Ovid "Semele").  Dionysus's mother Semele, the daughter of King Cadmus of Thebes, had an affair with Zeus (called Jove by the Romans) who disguised himself as a shepherd boy.  Unfortunately, her family does not believe she is carrying Zeus' child.  Hera, Zeus' wife finds out about the affair and goes down to earth disguised as a nurse maid to comfort Semele. Hera, angry at her husband and jealous of the young maiden, tells Semele to make Zeus promise that the next time he appears to her it would be in all his glory (robes, thunder, etc.). When Zeus keeps his promise, his powerful presence burns the young woman to ashes and all that remains is Dionysus. Zeus picks him up and inserts him into his thigh where he is reborn. Hera finds out about Zeus' devotion to his new son and chops Dionysus into pieces. Zeus then swallows him and he is reborn a third time.


Dionysus then lives with the satyrs in the woods, away from Hera's harm.  They devoutly teach him the lessons of life and he becomes the god of liberation and goes back to his mother's land.  On  his way back to his home he comes across sailors who told the young god they would take him wherever he wanted to go.  Instead, they try to take advantage of him by using him as a slave, so Dionysus curses them by calling snakes and panthers to appear on the boat.  As the sailors jump overboard he ends the events by turning them into dolphins.  The kylix depicts Dionysus turning his boat around to go back to Thebes and take revenge upon his mother's family who did not believe that Zeus was her child's father.

The Athenian variety of gods consisted of a group of gods who exhibited extremely human characteristics: they would love like people, play favorites, steal from each other and cheat each other. In some ways, according to our culture's values, they were not very morally developed. There are many myths which discuss the exploits of the gods and use them as models to explain the faults and triumphs of human characteristics. These myths not only pass on the stories, but, transmit cultural values as well. Mythology was passed on in many forms, decorative motifs on pottery, walls, and architecture, as well through poetry and performing arts. At the base of the Acropolis are two theaters, the Herodean Theater and the Theater of Dionysus. The inclusion of these theaters as integral part of the Acropolis tells us quite a lot about the culture of the Greeks. 


Greek temple architecture is designed in the post and lintel style.  The posts are the columns and the lintel is the entablature that rests on top of them.  Each one of these columns is a different style or order and has a distinct physical appearance. 
  

The Doric: 
Form:  The Doric is the simplest of the designs.  It has no base, simple fluting up the shaft of the columns and a simple capital that has no intricate ornamentation.  The entablature is divided into three sections consisting of the unornamented architrave, the frieze, which is subdivided in to the triglyph (tri- three glyph marks) and the metope.  The metope can also contain relief sculptures. (By the way, the Parthenon is a Doric order.)

Iconography and Context: I was taught to look at the orders in a rather chauvinistic manner which is probably how the Greeks saw them as well.   The Doric order is the most dignified and masculine of the orders and was named after the Dorian region. 

Sometimes the Doric order will exhibit a slight swelling in the center of the column.  This swelling, known as entasis, is thought to either correct the curvature of a temple for the eyes or to show that the column is responding to the weight of the building as it is begin held up.


The Ionic: 

Form:  The Ionic is more complex.  It has a base, simple fluting up the shaft of the columns and has an ornamented capital that makes it look like the letter "i".  The entablature of the Ionic order is less complex than the Doric and is divided in two sections.  These sections are the unornamented architrave and the frieze, sometimes decorated with relief sculptures.  (The Nike Temple is Ionic.)



Iconography and Context: I was taught to look at the orders in a rather chauvinistic manner which is probably how the Greeks saw them.   The Ionic order is a bit more feminine in its design because of the soft volutes of its capital.  It is a rather problematic column because it does not turn corners well as you can see from this detail of the Nike Temple corner.  It was named after the Greek region of Ionia. 



The Corinthian: 
Form:  The Corinthian is as complex as the Ionic but a bit overdressed.  It has a base, simple fluting up the shaft of the columns and has an ornamented capital that makes it look like a salad basket with its acanthus leaves.  The entablature is divided in two sections consisting of the unornamented architrave, and the frieze which is sometimes decorated with relief sculptures. 
Iconography and Context: I was taught to look at the orders in a rather chauvinistic manner which is probably how the Greeks saw them.  But, in a more 20th century context, the Corinthian order is the Carmen Miranda or "drag queen" of the orders with its overly ornate basket on its head.  It was named after the region of Corinth, conquered by the Greeks. 


Nike Temple, (Temple of Athena Nike) c425 BCE 
by Kallikrates, Acropolis Athens, 
Classic Greek Ionic Temple Style


Form: The Nike Temple  is a small (27'x9') ionic order temple. The temple is amphiprostyle with four columns on both the east and west facades.  There is little space between columns because of  stone's lack of tensile strength (flexibility).  There is a continuous running frieze in the entablature. The Nike Temple faces in one direction (west), but appears to have two entrances with blank side walls. Surrounding the temple is a low wall called a parapet which contained low flat relief sculptures. On the parapet's(3) side is a bass relief carving(4) (a statue) of Winged Victory, or Nike.




Iconography:  The goddess Nike is a winged female figure that represents victory.  The fact that this temple is located at the very entrance of the Acropolis could mean that victory is at the forefront of Athenian ideology.


Form:  This high relief carving is just one of many of the same type of winged figures in different poses.  In this sculpture the winged figure of Nike is adjusting her sandal.  Unfortunately most of the head and the wings sprouting out of her back have been destroyed but the torso and legs are well preserved.  The anatomy and carving of the figure is very naturalistically rendered; yet it struggles to maintain a certain idealized figure.  In other words, her figure adheres to the natural parts of a human body, but it also tends to preserve certain features as ideal.  This mixture of natural and ideal is heightened by the drapery that clings to her body.  The style of sculpting drapery, as if it were wet, is called the wet drapery style.

Iconography: Winged figures in Greek art are personifications of victory.  These nike figures are placed about the pediment of the Nike temple in different attitudes or poses as if they are part of a parade in celebration of Athens' victory during the Persian Wars. The idealization of the female form here is probably an illustration of the concept of kalos.

Context:  Many of the male figures found on the Acropolis from all eras are nude. However, it isn't until the second century that we begin to see nude females in Greek art.  The wet drapery style is a happy medium for representing idealized women because the folds and contours can be used to highlight the ideal features of each figure.  Interpretations of the drapery covering this figure's form might be in keeping with our own taboos against female nudity.  In our culture men are allowed to reveal a larger part of their body than females yet we design fashions that tease viewers by accenting certain part of the female form.  The Greeks' use of wet drapery might fill a similar need and indicate the concept of the female form as submissive versus the male form representing strength. 



Stele of Hegeso 
c.410-400 BC, Marble, 5'9" 
Athens. Classic


Form:  This stele is rendered in style very similar to the Nike parapet.  The two female figures are rendered in profile right against the front of the picture plane.  The figures inhabit what looks to be a post and lintel temple which gives the viewer the sense of an environment.  Each woman is idealized physically through the use of wet drapery.  


The folds of each dress accent the protruding knees and fluid bodies.  The anatomy of their faces is naturalistic with some idealized features as well.  An example of this is the bridge of the noses is representing as a straight line, a minor distortion of how noses fit in with the geography of the face: the bridge is usually slightly curved at the top.  This aquiline feature is referred to as the Greek nose.



Iconography:  Scenes like this are called genre, or everyday, scenes.  This is a scene of everyday life in which a maid brings a jewelry box to her mistress and she examines her trophies.  This kind of scene, which is often referred to as the "Mistress and Maid" motif is one that can also be found on vases as well as steles.  It can best be interpreted as a typical scene of upper class feminine pursuits.  The maid, the jewels, the chair, and the implied literacy of the visitors to the grave by the inscription on the lintel, are emblems of economic power that compliment the seated woman's beauty and status. (Compare this to the iconography of vases that depict two males such as in the Exekias vase.)

Context:  This stele was used as a grave marker and is probably an attempt by the artist and the people who commissioned it to make an idealized portrait of the represented, seated woman, buried in this grave. 

Form:  This stele is rendered in style very similar to the "Stele of Hegeso."  The two female figures are rendered in profile view up close against the front of the picture plane.  Each is idealized physically and wearing wet drapery.  The anatomy of their faces is naturalistic but idealized as well: the bridge of their noses is a straight line which is a slight distortion of how noses fit in with the geography of the face.  This aquiline feature is referred to as the Greek nose.
The white-ground technique is a vase painting technique in which the pot was first covered with a slip of very fine white clay, over which black glaze was used to outline figures, and diluted brown, purple, red, and white were used to color them.

Iconography:  This scene is a slight correction on the Stele.  In this one the maid brings the mistress a stool for her maid.  (I think it is the chest itself.)  This is also a kind of genre scene, in which a maid brings a jewelry box to her mistress and she examines her trophies.  This motif, which is often referred to as the "Mistress and Maid", is one that can also be found on vases and can best be interpreted as a typical scene of upper class feminine pursuits.  The maid, jewels, the writing and the clothes are emblems of economic power that compliment the seated woman's beauty and status. (Compare this to the iconography of vases that depict two males such as in the Exekias vase.)

For all the videos in order with a textbook and study guides please visit:


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Context:  Stokstad relates that this vase was used as a memorial ornament and is probably an attempt by the artist and the people who commissioned it to make an idealized portrait of the woman who it memorializes. Art is then establishing male and female roles through its depictions.