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Expressions of wealth: Greek art and society

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2015

David W.J. Gill
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge CB2 1RB


In the 2nd century AD Pausanias (i.2.4-15.1) walked through the agora at Athens describing some of the statues and naming the artists; at least 35 of the statues were of bronze, yet not a single one survives intact today (Mattusch 1982: 8-9). Thinking only of the extant marble sculpture does an injustice to the civic art of Athens. This problem is commonplace; almost any classical site has numerous stone bases for bronze statues which have long gone into the melting-pot. Yet so often in modern scholarship stone sculpture is given a privileged position. Although modern histories of Greek art pay much attention to the marble sculpture of the Parthenon, ancient authorities were not so impressed; Pausanias (i.24.5-7) provides the briefest of descriptions to the marble sculpted pediments and omits to mention the frieze. For many scholars today the frieze has become an example of what ‘unlimited money can do’ (Ashmole 1972: 116), yet, as R. Osborne has recently pointed out, it merely helped the viewer to process to the east end of the temple where he or she would have been confronted by the great chryselephantine cult-statue of Athena: ‘this is what the temple was built to display, this is the object towards which worship is directed, and this is what the procession was all about’ (Osborne 1987: 101). And this is what Pausanias describes in detail, the great work of art and expression of Athens’ wealth which no longer survives.

Special section: Classical matters
Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd 1988


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