Archaic and Early Classical: East and West Pediments, Temple of Aphaia, Aegina East and West Pediments from the Temple of Aphaia, Aegina, Archaic/Early Classical Periods, c. 490-480 B.C.E. (Glyptothek, Munich) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris & Dr. Steven Zucker
Archaic and Early Classical: East and West Pediments, Temple of Aphaia, Aegina
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- We're in the Glyptothek in Munich, this is
- an extraordinary museum devoted to ancient
- Greek and Roman antiquities,
- and that's all thanks to Prince Ludwig of Bavaria, who in the early 19th century
- said he wanted to found a collection of antique works of sculpture, because, as he said,
- we must also have in Munich what in Rome is known as a museum. I love that,
- you know, a museum wasn't even a commonly used word, the idea of a public collection
- was just coming into being, in Britain, in France, and here in Germany, and Ludwig was ambitious for Munich.
- He wrote, "I will turn Munich into a city of the arts, so that no one can claim to know Germany, who has
- not also seen Munich." So, art was a way of really putting a city on a map; it spoke to its
- cultural superiority, and Ludwig put together an incredible collection, and we're looking now
- at one of the great treasures of the museum, the sculptures from the pediment of the temple of Aphaea
- on the island of Aigina, just off the coast of Greece. This is an island that is visible from Athens,
- so it's very close to the Greek mainland. And we really shouldn't say pediment, we should say pediments.
- Let's unpack that just a little bit. On a greek temple, imagine the Parthenon. This is a long structure
- with a gable either end, that is,above the colonnade. At either short end of the temple,
- there is a low triangle, and historically, those were areas that were filled with sculptures.
- On the temple of Aphaea, there was a pediment on the East side and on the West side,
- on the two short ends of the temple. The sculptures that filled these pediments were
- discovered in the early 19th century when some German architects were surveying the
- ruins of the temple, and they were soon put on auction, and Ludwig was very pleased to acquire
- them for his new museum. The pediment sculptures were not made at the same moment, and that makes them
- even more interesting, because it helps us see the evolution of greek sculpture.
- The West pediment was earlier, and we think that those sculptures were carved when the temple
- was actually built, about 490 B.C.E.. The East side was later, and what's really interesting
- is those older West sculptures are in the archaic tradition, but the East pediment sculptures
- are just taking on the characteristics of the style we'll come to know as the Classical.
- We can say it's an early moment of the Classical for the sculptures on the East pediment,
- this moment of transition as the style really was just being invented.
- Now the subject for both pediments was the Trojan War, the war between the Trojans and the Greeks.
- Now this war was really a mythic war, but we know about it because it is the subject of
- Homer's great epic poem, "The Iliad," and some of the heroes of the Trojan War were from the Island of Aegina,
- so it makes sense that they would make an appearance on the pediment.
- So, let's start off by looking at the sculptures on the Western pediment. In terms of
- being a space that gets filled with sculpture, a pediment is kind of an awkward environment.
- It's incredibly awkward, because you have these two narrow areas of the triangle
- that are very hard to fill, and so one of the ways you can do that is to have reclining figures.
- Well, that's right, that's almost as if the sculptures have to play limbo, they get lower and lower
- as you move to the edges. But in this case, the sculptor has really been inventive, and he's found
- a marvelous solution. In the very center of the pediment, on both the East and the West sides,
- we have a standing figure, noble, looking outward, the Goddess Athena.
- And Athena was known as the Goddess of War, in addition to being the Goddess of Wisdom.
- On the west pediment, we see Athena, now holding a modern shaft, that is meant to represent
- a spear that would have originally been there perhaps in wood, more likely, in bronze or some other metal.
- When we look at Athena, we see a figure who looks typically archaic in style.
- She's frontal, she's rather rigid, fairly symmetrical, and there's a linear quality to her.
- She has a typical archaic smile, that removes her from emotion, removes her from the
- everyday world. She seems like a transcendant goddess. On either side of the
- standing Athena are two warriors, and they move outward. They're actually
- lunging with spears. One has their shield facing us, one has turned in the other direction,
- the shield is facing away from us, but they move our eye in either direction outward with real energy and
- real velocity, and of course, they are both slightly lower since their knees are bent,
- so that they fit under the eve of the gable. On either side of those figures we see kneeling archers, who are shooting bows.
- The archer on the left we can actually identify as Paris, and we can see his
- cap is tied in the back, his weight is on one knee, and on one heel. The bow is missing,
- but we can certainly see arm movement that suggests that he was in the middle
- of loosing his arrow. And then behind him, a striding figure with a weapon, who's attacking a figure
- who is falling to the ground. Look at the complexity of that group of three, the way in which they overlap,
- there's a real sense of energy, there's a real sense of dynamism, which is pretty extraordinary
- for the archaic moment. And then on the far left corner, another wounded figure, just fits
- into that corner space. Let's focus for a moment on the wounded warrior that is on the right side of the
- West pediment. We can see that he's fallen back, he's on his left hip, and he's on his left elbow,
- and his right hand seems to be clutching, or perhaps trying to remove a spear that has wounded him.
- Alright, let me stop you for a moment, because he doesn't really look like he's in the position of a
- wounded warrior. His knee's bent, it comes over his left leg, he's propped up on his left arm,
- and his right elbow comes up in a rather awkward way. This figure really doesn't seem believable
- in terms of what he's supposed to be doing, pulling the spear from his body. Well, that's right,
- this must be tremendously painful, probably would kill him, and yet look at his face, it still retains
- the archaic smile. For all of us, it is important to remember that this is not naturalism.
- This is not an attempt to render the feelings of the embodied, this is a highly stylized,
- very schematic structure, and in a way, the figure is a symbol,
- more than a real figure, a symbol of the fallen warrior in the Trojan War.
- One art historian has likened this figure to vase painting, where there was often an attempt
- to raise torsos up so that you could see the full musculature of the entire front.
- This is not about naturalism, it's about revealing the body in a way. The same art historian likened this
- figure to a reclining kouros, and that's exactly how he looks. It's as if a standing kouros figure has
- been tipped over. This is so different than what we see on the East pediment, which dates from
- only a decade or two later, where we see the beginnings of the Classical style. Let's take a look.
- The East pediment is much more fragmentary on the left side, but the one figure, of the fallen soldier,
- is in great condition, and so different from what we saw of the early archaic West facade.
- While this figure still has a bit of that archaic smile, everything else about the position of his body
- tells us that this is a wounded figure taking his last breaths. You can see that he's holding a sword with his right hand,
- but he's also trying to push himself back up, but he doesn't seem to be able to do it.
- His left arm is still in the shield, and he seems to be balancing himself, just a moment before that shield
- falls over with a bang. And so there's a sense that he's propping himself up, but also falling
- at the same time, lowering his body as he dies. He's looking down at the ground, and his body is more
- mature than the other figure,it's also much more naturalistically rendered. We're seeing that
- origin of the Classical tradition. In the archaic period, we see hard divisions between the muscles
- and the parts of the body. Outlines, almost, to the parts of the body, and here,
- one muscle flows into another, and there's a real sense of skin lying over a skeletal structure.
- Well thats right, a moment ago, you had said that the archaic sculpture was nothing but really a set of symbols.
- And here, it's as if the artist has actually observed the human body, and thought about it, what it must be like, for a figure to fall.
- Instead of having that back leg coming over the front leg in a very unnatural way, and instead of having that elbow lifted up,
- the right arm of the figure comes over his torso fully. There's no attempt to reveal the whole body
- tipped forward to us the way we had in the archaic figure. Now, look at the torso. Look at the
- muscles of the leg, this is a far more complex rendering of the human body in a complex pose.
- Just like on the West pediment, as we look at the East pediment,we've got a central figure, again, Athena.
- To the right of Athena, we have figures that are much more intact. We have a lunging figure, we saw that on
- the West pediment as well, who is in the process of impaling a man who has lost his helmet,
- his shield is falling off his arm, and he's tottering; he has lost his balance.
- He looks as though he's about to collapse. We know he's lost his helmet because the young man
- who's in back of him, who seems to be trying to aid him and running towards him.
- He's holding a fragment we know that would've originally been his helmet.
- His body forms a diagonal in the lunge, so it fits nicely to that triangular space of that pediment,
- and behind him is another archer just like we saw on the West pediment. Archaeologists think that
- that archer is actually the one who has hit the wounded warrior on the opposite side, the one who we were discussing before.
- That's right. So we have this wonderful unification of action among all of these figures on the East pediment.
- We have this more complex narrative even though the same story is being told. We have a much
- more complex musculature, and much more careful attention to the human experience, and this
- makes us ask what has changed. It's just been a few years between these pediments, yet they are
- so different. This is always the question art historians ask as we look at works of art that are separated
- not by a very long period of time, in this case, what has happened in the values of the ancient Greek culture
- that has led them to represent the human figure so differently. If you go back in Greek history,
- the Greeks were deeply influenced by monumental Egyptian sculpture. You can still get a sense
- of a trace of that in the archaic tradition, but now, there's a sense of self-awareness.
- These are mobile figures out in the world that are almost enacting human emotion,
- human expression, and human experience, and that is so different from the idea of representation as symbolic,
- which it's so in formed in earlier Greek art. So, in the Classical period, we have figures who we can
- believe are part of a story, it's a story that we can begin to feel for them, we can sympathize with them as we
- watch them. And this is a moment in ancient Greek history when the Greeks have just defeated
- the Persians in battle. This is an epic victory for Greek culture when many of the
- Greek city states united to fight their enemy, the Persians. That's right, this common enemy that really
- should have been victorious, the Persians should have won. It was a much larger army, and the
- Greeks knew it. The fact that they were victorious suggested to them that there was a kind of
- an order in the universe. There's a sense now that the world isn't a place that just operates arbitrarily
- according to the laws of the gods, but it's a place that the human mind, with its sense of the rational,
- can understand. So, there is a much greater burden placed on the Greeks, with this realization.
- They are now responsible for their own society, they are not part of kind of a random order, they're part
- of an order that they actually devise. So art historians see the origins of the Classical style
- in this historical moment. We have an obligation, even here in the 21st century, to try to put ourselves,
- even though it's an impossible task, in the minds of the ancient Greeks, and to truly understand
- these works of art from their point of view, and so it's really important to remember that these sculptures
- were painted, just like all ancient Greek sculptures, and with very bright colors.
- This completely destroys our image of Greek art. When we think about Greek art, we think about
- these pristine, brilliant, white, marble surfaces, and they were garish! They were yellow!
- They were blue! They were green! Art historians and archaeologists have done scientific analyses
- of these sculptures, and found traces and residues of pigments, and they've determined pretty accurately
- at least the red and blues that we find here in some of these geometric patterns. It's so jarring, for me, to try to imagine these colors back,
- and it's not just that the figures themselves were painted, but the architectural spaces in which these
- figures were placed were painted as well. Well, there are some anyways that we're not looking at
- these the way that the ancient Greeks did. First of all, these were outside, in the open air, they were high up
- on a pediment, on this island. Well, certainly, the color would have made it much easier to see these figures
- we're trying to fit in the shade of the architecture. You know, there's another element that we can re-imagine,
- which is these figures were not only holding things that have since disappeared, they were holding spears,
- and bows, and arrows, but they also had other pieces of metal work that have since been lost.
- There was hair, sometimes actually hanging kind of like bangs, over the forehead, and also long locks that came down and framed the faces.
- In this case, they were made of lead, and you can actually see the pieces of the remaining lead that are still there,
- and so we know precisely where they came out of the stone, and that would've helped, I think, create not
- these figures as single stone objects the way we see them, but as these much more complex figures
- that interact with their architectural environments. Let's not forget, too, that these are temples, these are
- places of religious worship, and that they were homes to the Gods, and that the central figure on both East and West pediments is the Goddess Athena.
- And of course, the Greek idea of Gods and Goddesses is entirely different from our own today of
- Christian tradition. So, these are all important things to keep in mind, as we look at Greek sculptures in museums.
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