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Parthenon Frieze

The Parthenon frieze is the high-relief pentelic marble sculpture created to adorn the upper part of the Parthenon’s naos. It was sculpted between c. 443 and 437 BC, most likely under the direction of Pheidias. Of the 160 meters (524 ft) of the original frieze, 128 meters (420 ft) survives—some 80 percent. The rest is known only from the drawings attributed to French artist Jacques Carrey in 1674, thirteen years before the Venetian bombardment that ruined the temple.

At present, the majority of the frieze is at the British Museum in London (forming the major part of the Elgin Marbles); the largest proportion of the rest is in Athens, and the remainder of fragments shared between six other institutions. Casts of the frieze may be found in the Beazley archive at the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, at the Spurlock Museum in Urbana, in the Skulpturhalle at Basel and elsewhere.

Plutarch’s Life of Pericles, 13.4–9, informs us “the man who directed all the projects and was overseer [episkopos] for him [Pericles] was Phidias... Almost everything was under his supervision, and, as we have said, he was in charge, owing to his friendship with Perikles, of all the other artists”. The description was not architekton, the term usually given to the creative influence behind a building project, rather episkopos. But it is from this claim, the circumstantial evidence of Phidias’s known work on the Athena Parthenos and his central role in the Periclean building programme that he is attributed authorship of the frieze. The frieze consists of 378 figures and 245 animals. It was 160 meters (524 ft) in length when complete, as well as 1 meter in height, and it projects 5.6 cm forward at its maximum depth. It is composed of 114 blocks of an average 1.22 meters in length, depicting two parallel files in procession. It was a particular novelty of the Parthenon that the cella carries an Ionic frieze over the hexastyle pronaos rather than Doric metopes, as would have been expected of a Doric temple. Judging by the existence of regulae and guttae below the frieze on the east wall this was an innovation introduced late in the building process and replaced the ten metopes and triglyphs that might otherwise have been placed there.



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