The Parthenon (West Frieze, Slab 2)
The Parthenon, built during years 447-432 BCE, served to celebrate Pallas Athena and all her glory. The magnificent Doric order temple housed the Chryselephantine sculpture, a 40 foot tall gold and ivory statue of Athena, and has awed viewers for centuries as arguably the pinnacle piece of architecture during the Classical Period (“The Parthenon”). The Parthenon featured an incredible amount of detail, including on the 524-foot long frieze. Though the images depicted on the frieze are debated, it is widely believed that the lively scenes portrayed on 3-foot tall stone are of the Panathenaic procession (Shafe).
The ionic frieze wraps around the Parthenon and displays a continuous array of processional traditions: cavalrymen, sacrificial animals, musicians, elders, and other scenes (Mach, 56). On the East Frieze, there is also an image of a number of seated gods, sitting amongst humans (“The Parthenon”). Slab 2 of the West Frieze in particular, embodies the spirit of the Parthenon and of the Classical Period. The slab shows two barely-clothed men on horses, partaking in the celebration of the Panathenaic games. The entire frieze is carved in extremely low relief (about 3 inches deep) yet manages to tell an incredibly lively story.
The horses on slab two are reared, and thus allows for us to admire the defined musculature of the horses’ legs. Also, the manes of the horses and the fabrics of the men’s clothing flow in the wind, creating the feel of a dramatic leftwards movement. The rider on the left is signaling to the men behind him, causing him to twist and raise his left arm in a manner that shows off his well-defined body, while the rider on the right tries to control his horse, frowning and flexing in concentration. Despite only three inches of room to create a space, the sculptors manage to layer the right horse over the left horse, giving us a sense of depth. Even in just one slab, a great deal of information is communicated to the viewer.
The size of the men relative to the horses is not at first striking, but actually quite abnormal. The men are extremely large compared to their horses and visibly exercise a great deal of control, expressed by their firm grasps on their steed. We experience the power of man by observing man’s interactions with other creatures. Also, the riders are wearing virtually no clothing and reveal their muscular bodies. This depiction of nude, youthful men is exemplary of the humanism movement during the Classical Period- these strong men are shown in their prime, and their bodies are portrayed as magnificent and beautiful. The West Frieze of the Parthenon is an exquisite example of humanism during the Classical Period.
Shafe, Laurence. “Parthenon West Frieze: 2 Horsemen.” SHAFE Website. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <http://www.shafe.co.uk/art/Parthenon_West_Frieze-_2_horsemen.asp>
“The Parthenon.” Parthenon. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <http://www.ancient-greece.org/architecture/parthenon.html>.
Mach, Edmund Von. Greek Sculpture, Its Spirit and Principles,. Boston: Ginn &, 1903. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <http://books.google.com/books?id=0GBTAAAAMAAJ&pg=PR11&dq=west+frieze+parthenon&hl=en&sa=X&ei=S4i7UP