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A small votive capital from Kythera1

  • Aenne Ohnesorg (a1)


The fragment of a marble volute found near Palaiopolis was at first identified as part of a capital, and later interpreted as an altar akroterion. By measuring, drawing and analysing the details of the fragment, it has become clear that it must be reconstructed as a capital. Its size is determined by the axes of the ornamental leaves of the cushion and the diameter of the echinus, which lead to 2 alternatives (FIG. 3). The capital as such is unusual with its flat volutes with large rosette eyes, the ‘attic’ two-tiered echinus, the omphalos-like disk on the front of the ‘spandrel’ and the leaf patterns on the cushion. The almost eclectic use of features from different regions of the Ancient World makes dating difficult. An origin in the later sixth century BC seems probable. It would appear to be a votive capital that perhaps bore the plinth of a votive sculpture.



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2 Huxley, G. L., ‘Kythera: Kastri—Palaiopolis, 1963’, A. Delt. 19 (1964) B 1, 147–8. with pl. 151 (b); Coldstream, J. N. and Huxley, G. L. (eds), Kythera: Excavations and Studies (London, 1972), 37 with pl. 3 (c). The modern place-name is Avlemon. Following them, Petrocheilos, I. E.,Τα Κύϑερα από την προϊστοριϰή εποχή ώςπη ρωμαιοϰρατεία(Ioannina, 1984), 86 no. 1.

3 The grain diameter is about 2–3 mm; the marble might be Parian.

4 Comparable large eyes, albeit without decoration, are found on capitals with vertical volutes in Paros: Ohnesorg, ‘Kapitelle’, 115–16, with pls. 21. 7, 22. 3.

5 The minimum original depth should have been c. 23 cm, which also would fit in with the ornament, see below, since the marble slab that is apparently broken off cannot have measured less than 6 cm at least.

6 Such altar akroteria seem to develop in the region of Miletus in the 6th c. BC; here the volutes appear at the rear corners of the altar table, sometimes also on the enclosing walls (herkoi): Koenigs, W., ‘Bauglieder aus Milet, ii’, Ist. Mitt. 30 (1980), 5691, with earlier literature. The proportions of volute height to depth of these ‘Milesian’ altar volutes are between 2.9: 1 and 1.9: 1 (Koenigs 62–77, 80–2, volute akroteria nos. 1–5, 7, 9, and Monodendri), while the slimmest possible solution for the Kythera capital would already reach 1.8: 1. For a determination of the volute depth one needs to consider that the ornament-axes of the leaf net and the kyma need to harmonize, something that is possible for both only with 5 or 10 axes respectively (see below); two leaf-net axes of 9.1 cm would result in 23 cm including the rims, but the kyma would have 5.5 axes, which could be merged by using bipartite leaves.

7 So far as I know, the term ‘cushion-altars’ used to be applied only to examples from the Roman Imperial period, but it can also be transferred to the block altar with cover plate and a layer above, a type that apparently emerged in Late Archaic Attica. Its ends are rolled up into volutes at the back and front, albeit in another direction from that on the ‘Milesian’ corner akroteria, that is downwards, so that the volutes are parallel with only the front and back sides. In this way they form cushions at the flanks of the altar. This altar type appears, for example, on the Late Archaic altar underneath the Nike bastion on the Athenian Acropolis, on a Classical (?) poros altar from the west slope of the Akropolis, and at the altar of Aphrodite Hegemone of 197/6 B C from the region north of the Hephaisteion: Mark, I. S., The Sanctuary of Athena Nike in Athens (Hesp. Supp. 26; Princeton, 1993), 54 fig. 11 and pl. 5; Crosby, M., The Altar of the Twelve Gods in Athens (Hesp. Supp. 8; Commemorative Studies in Honor of Th. L. Shear, 1949, repr. 1975), pl. 14; Travlos, J., Bildlexikon zur Topographie des antiken Athen (Tübingen, 1971), 7981. It is also the commonest type of altar represented in minor arts, notably vase-painting, of the 6th and 5th cc: Reisch, E., RE i (1894), 1672; Rupp, D., ‘Blazing altars: the depiction of altars in Attic vase painting’, in Étienne, R. and Le Dinahet, M.-Th. (eds), L'Espace sacrificiel dans les civilisations méditerranéennes de l'antiquité: Actes du colloque tenu à la Maison de l'Orient, Lyon, 4–7 juin 1988 (Lyon, 1991), 5763; Charpouthier, F., ‘Leda devant l'œuf de Némésis’, BCH 66/67 (1942/1943), 121, esp. fig. 3; Aktseli, D., Altäre in der archaischen und klassischen Kunst (Internationale Archäologie, 28; Espelkamp, 1996), 8, 15–17, 88107.

8 9.1 × 5 + 2 × 2.4 cm edge strip = 50.3 cm; 4.3 × 10 + 2 × 3.9 cm edge leaves = 50.8 cm, a very similar value, which would reach exactly the same 50.3 cm if the axis of the abacus-kyma was reduced to 4.25 cm.

9 9.1 × 6 + 2 × 2.4 = 59.4 cm; 4.3 × 12 + 2 × 3.9 = 59.4 cm, thus the same value; this is 5.4 cm more than the cushion depth determined on the basis of the echinus remains.

10 On early Ionic capitals the number of echinus leaves and their distribution is irregular; from about the middle of the 6th c. onwards the leaves are evenly distributed, and their number usually dividable by 2 or 4. Cf. Ohnesorg, ‘Kapitelle’; ead. in Stampolidis, N. Chr. (ed.),Φώς Κυϰλαδιϰόν· τιμητιϰός στη μνήμη του Νιϰολάου Ζαφειρόπουλου (Athens, 1999), 221 with n. 4. When the cushion depth and the diameter are enlarged, as considered in the previous note, the central axis moves away from the volute by the same difference: (59.4 – 50.3): 2 = 455 cm. The distance between the volutes would thus increase from c. 30 to c. 39 cm and one has to reconstruct 20 echinus leaves (FIG. 3 b).

11 On some Attic capitals the echinus terminates at the bottom with an astragalos or a low profiled layer: Shoe Meritt, ‘Capitals’, 129 ff., 157 ff. (catalogue) with pls. 41 ff., 46: capitals no. 15–16 and the capital from the ‘Stoa of the Athenians’ in Delphi (attribution by Korres, M., ‘Ein Beitrag zur Kenntnis der attisch-ionischen Architektur’, in Schwandner, E.-L. (ed.), Säule und Gebälk Zu Struktur und Wandlungsprozeß griechisch-römischer Architektur. Bauforschungskolloquium in Berlin vom 16. bis 18. Juni 1994 (Diskussionen zur archäologischen Bauforschung, 6; Mainz, 1996), 110–12 with fig. 32). On the Attic Zwischenstück, see Shoe Meritt, ‘Capitals’, 131–6, as well as McGowan, ‘Origins’, 210–18, and most recently Gruben, G., ‘Naxos und Delos’, Jdl 112 (1997), 365. On Sicilian and South Italian capitals the astragalos and sometimes also a part of the column shaft are integral, as is sometimes a kind of ‘Zwischenstück’: Théodorescu, D., Chapiteaux ioniques de la Sicile méridionale (Naples, 1974), passim; Krauss, F., Die Tempel von Paestum i. 1: Der Athenatempel (Denkmäler antiker Architektur ix. 1; Berlin, 1959), 43–7 with figs. 27. 6, 45. On capitals with rising volutes, see Ohnesorg, ‘Kapitelle’, 115–17 with pls. 21–2, and McGowan, ‘Votive Columns’, 28–37.

12 Attica: Shoe Meritt, ‘Capitals’, 121–74, esp. capitals 4, 8, 16A, B, 17A, B; McGowan ‘Origins’; ead., ‘Votive Columns’, 348–579 cat. no. 59–145, esp. cat. no. 64. 77 (with pls. 56–74; almost nothing can be made out on the photographs). Northern Greece: G. Bakalakis, “Νεάπολις — Χριστούπολις — Καβάλα”, Arch. Eph. 1936 (1937), 1–48 with figs. 10–27; Martin, R., ‘Chapiteaux Ioniques de Thasos’, BCH 96 (1972), 303–25. For Western Greece, see previous n. The variant with the slightly lower cushion and greater volute distance, considered in the previous nn., does not essentially change the proportions and is therefore not illustrated.

13 Koenigs, W., ‘Archaische Bauglieder aus Kyzikos’, Anat. Stud. 31 (1981), 121–8 with fig. 1 and pl. 17.

14 Samos: Buschor, E., ‘Altsamische Grabstelen’, AM 58 (1933), 2246; id., ‘Altsamische Grabstelen II’, AM 74 (1959), 6–9. Halikarnassos: Plommer, H., ‘Note on the Ionic Capital/Halicarnassos Peninsula’, BSA 50 (1955), 95, 169–71 with fig. 15 and pl. 12 (a–b); Martin, R., ‘Chapiteau ionique d'Halicarnasse’, REA 61 (1959), 6576; Alzinger, W., ‘Von der Archaik zur Klassik’, Öjh 50 (1972/1973), 183 with fig. 10; Théodorescu, D., Le Chapiteau ionique grec (Geneva, 1980), pl. 2.

15 Athens Agora, two Late Archaic ‘probably dedicatory’ capitals as well as Late Archaic and, probably, archaizing Classical architectural capitals, including the so called ‘Inwood capital’: Shoe Meritt, ‘Capitals’, 144–67, nos. 3, 18–19 (cat. no. 3, pp. 144–6 with fig. 8 and pl. 36, is described as having 12 leaves but in fact has 8, as is clearly shown by the illustration); ead., ‘Some Ionian architectural fragments from the Athenian Agora’, in Studies in Athenian Architecture, Sculpture and Topography, Presented to Homer A. Thompson (Hesp. Supp. 20; Princeton, 1982), 8292 with fig. 2 and pl. 12. Thessaloniki, Kavala as well as Selinus and Syracuse: Bakalakis, G., ‘Therme-Thessaloniki’, AK 1963, Supp. 1, 30–4; Théodorescu (n. 14), pls. 1–2 (who strangely speaks of ‘flat or hollow’ volute eyes at Lokroi, where rosettes are certain). Lokroi: Costabile, F., L'architettura samia di occidente (Conferenza e mostra 6, 5, 1997, Scuola Archeologica Italiana di Atene, Det Norske Institutt i Athen, etc.: Soveria Mannelli, 1997), 30–1 with earlier literature, pls. 15–23. Metapontion: Mertens, D., ‘Der ionische Tempel in Metapont’, Architectura, 7 (1977), 152–62.

16 Cârstoiu, M. Margineanu, ‘Archaische Architektur-bruchstücke aus Histria’, Dacia, 37 (1993), 3958 with figs. 1–5; the rosette here, however, has a strange prismatic shape.

17 Volute eyes in the shape of little omphalos bowls appear, e.g., on the Archaic anta capitals in Samos and Didyma, on a corner akroterion of an altar in Patmos, on a Late Archaic corner capital of the Propylon in Delos, on the console of the Siphnian Treasury in Delphi, on an Early Classical capital in Thessaloniki Museum, as well as on the well-known grave stele from the Troad in the Boston Museum. Samos: Ziegenaus, O., ‘Die Tempelgruppe im Norden des Altarplatzes’, AM 72 (1957), 87151 with pl. 12 and Beil. 100–1. Didyma: Knackfuß, H., ‘Die Baubeschreibung’, in Wiegand, Th., Didyma (Berlin, 1941), i. 142–50 with pls. 206–9, photographs 639–44, and drawing 83 (b); Krauss, F., ‘Über die ursprüngliche Gestalt des Ludovisischen Reliefs’, Jdl 63/64 (1948/1949), 5960; Hahland, W., ‘Didyma im 5. Jh. v. Chr.’, Jdl 79 (1964), 142240. Patmos: Gruben, G., ‘Das archaische Didymaion’, Jdl 78 (1963), 136 n. 97; Koenigs (n. 6), 79–80. Delos: ibid., 169 fig. 44, and id., ‘Naxos und Delos’, Jdl 112 (1997), 348–73 with figs. 79–80. Delphi: Daux, G. and Hansen, E., Le Trésor de Siphnos (Fouilles de Delphes, ii; Paris, 1987), 124–30 with fig. 90 and pl. 58. Thessaloniki, Museum, inv. 6736: apparently still unpublished. Boston: Comstock, M. B. and Vermeule, C. C., Sculpture in Stone: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston, 1976), 1516 with fig. 23 and earlier literature, including Hahland, op. cit., 190 with fig. 48.

18 The plinth of the (surviving) Late Archaic Delian votive sphinx, for example, features a large tenon and is set flush with the ‘abacus’: Bruneau, Ph. and Ducat, J., Guide de Délos, 3rd edn. (Paris, 1983), 65 fig. 8, also McGowan, ‘Votive Columns’, 166–73, pl. 3.

19 The capitals of the Early Classical Ionic temples of Metapontion and Lokris bear a scale pattern: Mertens (n. 15), 152–62 and id., ‘Der ionische Tempel von Metapont. Ein Zwischenbericht’, RM 86 (1979), 103–40, as well as id., in G. Pugliese Carratelli (ed.), The Western Greek (Milan, 1996), 330; Costabile (n. 15), 30–1 with pls. 18–22. Isolated Classical capitals, including votive capitals, with scale pattern have been found in Selinus and Syracuse: Théodorescu (n. 11), 13–51, 32 with pls. 8–17; Cultrera, G., ‘Sicilia IX. Siracusa. Scoptere nel Giardino Spagna’, N. Sc. n.s. 4 (1943), 7982. In Asia Minor, too, namely in Ephesos, fragments of foliated cushions (as well as double-torus-like architectural elements with scales) were found, although these appear to be Late Classical: Altekamp, St., Zu griechischer Architekturornamentik im 6. und 5. Jh. v. Chr. (Frankfurt am Main, 1991), 109–10 with earlier literature. Last but not least there are (Archaic) Attic capitals with scale decoration on the cushions or on the vertical surface above the cushion below the abacus: Borrmann, R., ‘Stelen für Weihgeschenke auf der Akropolis zu Athen’, Jdl 3 (1888), 269–85, esp. 277 with fig. 18; Kawerau, G., ‘Eine ionische Säule von der Akropolis zu Athen’, Jdl 22 (1907), 197207 with fig. 1 and pl. 4. 2, also McGowan, ‘Votive Columns’, 75, 380–2 cat. no. 68, 386–9 cat. no. 70.

20 Coldstream and Huxley (n. 2), 37: ‘Late Archaic’.

1 The translation was made by Alexandra Villing, with the help of Neill Adams, both British Museum, London.

The following abbreviations are used:

McGowan, ‘Origins’ = E. P. McGowan, ‘The origins of the Athenian Ionic Capital’, Hesp. 66 (1997), 209–33 with pls. 55–60.

McGowan, ‘Votive Columns’ = E. P. McGowan, ‘Votive Columns of the Aegean Islands and the Athenian Acropolis in the Archaic Period’ (Diss. New York University, Institute of Fine Arts, 1993).

Ohnesorg, ‘Kapitelle’ = A. Ohnesorg, ‘Parische Kapitelle’, in J. Des Courtils and J.-Ch. Moretti (eds), Les Grands Atelier d'architecture dans le monde égéen du VIe siècle av.J.-C. Colloque Istanbul 1991 (Varia Anatolica, 3; Paris, 1993), 111–18.

Shoe Meritt, ‘Capitals’ = L. Shoe Meritt, ‘Athenian Ionian capitals from the Athenian Agora’, Hesp. 65 (1996), 121–74.

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A small votive capital from Kythera1

  • Aenne Ohnesorg (a1)


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