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"Plaque of the Ergastines" fragment from the frieze on the east side of the Parthenon

Phidias (?), "Plaque of the Ergastines," 445 - 438 B.C.E., Pentelic marble (Attica), 0.96 x 2.07 m, fragment from the frieze on the east side of the Parthenon (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker

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Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    At , Dr. Zucker and Dr. Harris speak with us about how more modern artists were "looking back to classical Greece in trying to achieve again what been achieved in the fifth century BCE...."

    We then proceed to see an image of the famous painting by George Seurat 'A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (1884-1886).' What about this image evokes the classical naturalism of ancient Greek sculpture and relief?
    (13 votes)
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    • starky ultimate style avatar for user Steven Zucker
      Marcos, I think this interpretation is quite thoughtful and points in a valuable direction. Seurat was clearly focused on the social structures of his day and notions of ancient and modern ritual is a perfect way to frame the issue. But Seurat was also deeply concerned with formal issues (these were likely not distinct from his concern with subject) and sought a level of clarity and compositional rigor that he may well have associated with the classical ideal. When Beth chose the Seurat for the video, we discussed it and decided it was unexpected but fitting and hoped it would prompt exactly this sort of discussion. Thanks for jumping in.
      (11 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user LLM.Gayles
    Dr. Zucker, I would like to extend the conversation you had with another commenter about the modern day Greek government requesting the sculptures back. You mentioned that this subject is "very complex with legitimate and conflicting interests," how so? I have never visited Greece ;however my husband has, and he commented on how it (Parthenon) literally feels as if the story is incomplete but not because of the obvious. He said it was almost like a puzzle with many missing pieces, and knowing that someone else has the missing piece to your puzzle (but won't give it back). It seems rather, undiplomatic.

    Is there information that I could read that states the reasons why the British or the French would not give the sculptures back to Greece?
    (5 votes)
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  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    Also, I know I ask a ton of questions, but in the end of this video Dr. Zucker you mention that the modern day Greek government has constructed a marvelous museum of sorts to house the Greek relics lost abroad "should they ever be returned." Have you been inside this structure? And if so what is it like? Is it capable of truly doing a comparable job to the incredible British museum, the Louvre, among others?
    (3 votes)
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    • starky ultimate style avatar for user Steven Zucker
      This is an extremely complex subject with many legitimate and conflicting interests. On the topic of the New Acropolis Museum, in my opinion, it is both beautiful and thoughtfully designed and it boasts many of the most important sculptures of the archaic and classical periods.
      (3 votes)
  • aqualine sapling style avatar for user bellamerchant
    In the video, they keep saying "the citizens of Athens", even when describing women, but weren't Athenian citizens only MEN born in Athens with two Athenian parents?
    (3 votes)
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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user bcauvel
    Is there an explanation as to why all the heads and faces have been damaged or destroyed? It almost seems intentional.
    (1 vote)
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    • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
      Throughout the ages the head was seen as an easy prize to take with you....just take a hammer and pick to the neck and you have a valuable ancient treasure that is highly mobile and precious. Unfortunate for us although at least the body was not as easy to stuff in a rucksack or we would be left with a lot less to study than the little we have today!
      (4 votes)
  • female robot grace style avatar for user Rebecca Fitzgerald
    Has the Frieze been returned yet?
    (1 vote)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user trek
      No, these museums have in their collections sculptures from the Parthenon:

      · Musée du Louvre, Paris
      · Vatican Museums
      · National Museum, Copenhagen
      · Kunsthistorisches Museum,Vienna
      · University Museum, Würzburg
      · Glyptothek, Munich
      (2 votes)
  • marcimus pink style avatar for user Donna Ngo
    What sorts of effort are being put in to try and "reunite" separated pieces such as the friezes of the Parthenon?
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user isaactoth8
    Will the Louvre and the British Museum return these pieces? How did they even get these important artifacts?
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Dave Mac
    Do the museums mentioned have any plans to ever return the items? Could the Greek Government take them to court if they don't return them?
    (1 vote)
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    • starky ultimate style avatar for user petsrule845
      I think they could take them to court if they really wanted to. It was probably harder to because back then forms of communication did not exist, and communication now makes things so much easier. Court cases still take a long time today, with communication. Now imagine back then, when they didn't have that. Lack of communication makes things harder. That's why I think that they could if they really had to.
      (1 vote)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Trevor Niccoli
    The sculptures are really cool
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

(jazzy piano music) Voiceover: We're in the Louvre in Paris, and we're looking at a fragment of the frieze from the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. Voiceover: Some of this frieze is in the Acropolis Museum, in Athens. Some of it is here, in Paris, and most of it is in the British Museum, in London. In fact, the scene just to the right is in the British Museum in London. In this case, the word frieze, refers to a band of sculpture that's about three feet tall, that wrapped around the entire Parthenon, just inside the first colonnade. It would have been really hard to see because it would have been in shadow. Here, we see no traces of paint, but originally, this would have been very brightly colored. We think that the background was blue. We think there were highlights of gold on the figures. They would have been garishly painted, to our eyes. It's important to remember that we would have been looking up at this. It would have been quite high, and so we're seeing it much closer than originally intended. Voiceover: Historians generally agree that this represents the Pan-Athenaic Procession. All the citizens of Athens gathered in a procession, made their way up the sacred way to the Acropolis, this high point in the city, where the great temple to Athena, the Parthenon stood. Voiceover: Young women would have woven a woolen peplos to clothe the statue of Athena. These were specially regarded young women that came from leading families in Athens. Voiceover: Now, the peplos, this garment, was not for the colossal sculpture of Athena that was inside the Parthenon, but this was an ancient sculpture that was very sacred that stood in a temple right next to the Parthenon. Voiceover: That's the Erechtheion. Voiceover: And so, a new garment was woven and given to this ancient olive wood sculpture of Athena. Voiceover: The Pan-Athenaic Procession, as represented in the frieze on the Parthenon shows not only the procession of these young women bringing the peplos, but also animals being brought for sacrifice; libations. All the things you need for an important ancient ceremony. Voiceover: The interesting thing about the frieze is that it seems to show a contemporary event. That is, it's not a mythological event, which was normal decoration for a temple, but something from the civic life from Athens, and remember Athens is a democracy at this moment in the 5th century. The citizens of Athens look beautiful, noble, heroic. Voiceover: Well, the nobility is so clear in this fragment. We see these women solemnly processing. They're interrupted by two male figures, but look of the clarity of the carving. There such solemnity; there such a sense of reverence. Voiceover: Of dignity; one immediately gets a sense that this is a religious procession in honor of Athena, the goddess, the patron of the city of Athens. Voiceover: This is the high classical moment, and it's beautifully represented here. There's a sense of balance, of idealism. In fact, this kind of art was considered so perfect, that through much of the rest of Western History, we see more modern cultures looking back to classical Greece, and trying to achieve, again, what had been achieved in the 5th century B.C.E. Voiceover: Phidias, who we generally think of as in charge of the sculptural program on the Parthenon, developed a style that we see here. Very intricate folds following the forms of the body. We see it in flatter areas move around the breasts of the women, but also very curvilinear folds at the edges of the peplos where it's folded over and belted, and still other areas where it falls in very straight lines that might remind us of the fluting of a column. Voiceover: The figures are standing in contrapposto, that is, for the young women, in general, their left leg is the weight bearing leg. Their right leg is moving forward, and we can see the knee breaking the fall of the drapery. So, there is this alternation between movement and the static. Voiceover: Look at the gracefulness of the figure on the far right. Look at how she's walking to her right, but turns her body to the left, and seems to address a companion behind her. These figures may have carried ceremonial objects that they're offering to the male figures, or the male figures may be giving something to them. The precise narrative is unclear. Voiceover: In fact, some art historians even question whether or not this is the Pan-Athenaic Procession. It's important before we end, to acknowledge the fact that the Greek government has asked that both the British Museum and the Louvre return these marvels to Greece. Just at the foot of the Parthenon, the city of Athens has built a magnificent new museum to house these sculptures should they ever be returned. (jazzy piano music)