If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:14:40

East and West Pediments, Temple of Aphaia, Aegina

Video transcript

we're in the glitch attack 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 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 is not also seen Munich so art was a way of really putting a city on a map it spoke to its cultural superiority and look we 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 aphaia on the island of Aegina just off the coast of Greece this is an island that's 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 like this is a long structure with a Gable at 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 sculpture on the temple of aphaia there was a pediment on the east side and on the west side on the two short ends of the temple the sculptures that fill 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 BCE the east side were later and what's really interesting is those older west school are in the archaic tradition but the East pediment sculptures are just taking on the characteristics of the style that we'll come to know as the classical we could say it's an early moment of the classical for the sculptures on the East pediment it's this moment of transition as the style is really just being invented now the subject for both pediments was the Trojan War the war between the Trojans and the Greeks now this war is 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 that you can do that is to have reclining figure well that's right it's almost as if the sculptures have to play limbo they get lower and lower and we come to the edges but in this case the sculptor has really been inventive and has 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 so 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 and would more likely in bronze or some other metal when we look at Athena we see a figure who looks typically archaic in style she is frontal she's rather rigid fairly symmetrical and there's a linear quality to her drapery she has a typical archaic smile that removes her from emotion removes her from the everyday world she seems like a transcendent goddess on either side of the standing Athena our two warriors and they move outward they're actually lunging with Spears one has your shield facing us one is turned in the other direction the shield is facing away from us but they move our eye in either direction out with real energy 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 an arm movement suggests that he was in the middle of it loosing his arrow and then behind him a striding figure with a weapon who's attacking a figure who's falling to the ground and look at the complexity of that group of three in 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 you 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 all right 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 is 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 I mean this figure really doesn't seem believable in terms of what he's supposed to be doing pulling this spear from his body well that's right this must be tremendously painful and probably will kill him and yet look at his face he still retains the archaic smile but for all of this it's important to remember that this is not naturalism this is not the attempt to render the feelings of the human body 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 a fallen warrior in the Trojan War one art historian has likened this figure to vase painting where there was an attempt often to raise torsos up so that you can see the full musculature in the entire front and so 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 though a standing Kouros figure has been tipped over this is so different than what we see on the East pediment which dates from only about a decade or two later where we see the beginnings of the classical style let's go take a look now the East pediment is much more fragmentary on the left side but the one figure of the fallen soldier is in great condition and it's so different from what we saw of the earlier archaic West facade and 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 breath 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 you know it's 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 naturalistic Lee rendered we're seeing the origin of the classical tradition in the archaic period we see hard divisions between the muscles and the parts of the body outlines almost two 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 that's 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 artists actually observed a human body and thought about what it must be like for a figure to fall and 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 and now look at the torso look at the muscles of the leg this is a far more like surrendering 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 and 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 is holding a fragment that we know would have originally been his helmet his body forms a diagonal in that lunge and so fits nicely into that triangular space of the pediment and behind him is another Archer of just like we saw on the west pediment archeologists 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 and so we have this wonderful unification of action among all of these figures on the East pediment so we have this more complex narrative even though the same story is being told we have a much more complex musculature much more careful attention to human experience and this makes us ask what has changed there's just been a few years between these pediments and yet they are so different this is always the question that our 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 ancient Greek culture that has led them to represent the human figure so differently well 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 had so informed earlier Greek art and so within 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 and the fact that they were victorious suggested to them that there was a kind of order in the universe there's a sense now that the world is into 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 and so there is a much greater burden placed on the Greeks with this realization they are now responsible for their own society they're not part of a kind of random order they are 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 so this completely destroys our image of Greek art I mean I think 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 archeologists have done scientific analyses of these sculptures and found traces and residues of pigments and been able to determine it pretty accurately at least the red and blues that we find here in some of the 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 was painted as well well there are so many ways 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 which might have been in the shade of the architecture you know there's another element that we can reimagine 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 metalwork that have since been lost there was hair sometimes actually hanging like a kind of bangs over the forehead and also long locks that came down and framed the faces in this case they were made out of lead and we can actually see little pieces of the remaining lead that are still there and so we know precisely where they came out of stone and that would have helped I think create not these figures as single stone objects the way that we see them but is these much more complex figures that interact with their architectural environments let's not forget to you 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 the east and west pediment is the goddess Athena and of course the Greek idea of gods and goddesses is entirely different from our own judeo-christian tradition so these are all important things to keep in mind as we look at Greek sculptures and museums you