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

Video transcript

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 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 freeze refers to a band of sculpture it's about three feet tall they're wrapped around the entire Arthur not just inside the first colonnade and 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 that there were highlights of gold on the figures they would have been rather garish li painted to our eyes now 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 historians generally agree that this represents the Panathenaic 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 young women would have woven a woolen peplos to clothe the statue of Athena and these were specially regarded young women that came from leading families in Athens 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 that's the rectum and so a new garment was woven and given to this ancient olive wood sculpture of Athena the Panathenaic 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 to ancient ceremony 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 of Athens and remember Athens is a democracy at this moment in the fifth century the citizens of Athens look beautiful noble heroic well the nobility is so clear in this fragment we see these young women solemnly processing they're interrupted by two male figures but look at the clarity of the carving there's such solemnity there's such a sense of reverence 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 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 fifth century BCE 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 and following the forms of the body we see it in flatter areas move around the breasts of the women but also very curvilinear folds of 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 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 we can see the knee breaking the fall of the drapery and so there is this alternation between movement and the static 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 maybe giving something to them the precise narrative is unclear in fact some art historians even question whether or not this is the Panathenaic procession and it's important before we end to acknowledge the fact that the Greek government has asked that both the British Museum and the Louvre returned these marbles to Greece and adjusted the foot of the Parthenon the city of Athens has built a magnificent new museum to house these sculptures should they ever be returned