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Work Decorative fragment from the temple at Assos

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Archaic Greek Art (7th-6th centuries BC)

Decorative fragment from the temple at Assos

© 2006 Musée du Louvre / Daniel Lebée et Carine Deambrosis

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Archaic Greek Art (7th-6th centuries BC)

Author(s):
Marie-Bénédicte Astier

This fragment of an architrave decorated with a running frieze was once topped by metopes and triglyphs. It dates from the mid-fourth century BC and shows the singularity of the temple of Assos, the only Doric temple in Asia Minor. This frieze reveals that distinctions between the architectural orders were still theoretical in the Archaic period. The scene depicts Hercules, quiver on his back, fighting with the sea-god Triton, or Nereus. Frightened Nereids flee the scene, waving their arms.

The temple of Assos

The temple of Assos is the only fourth-century Doric temple in Asia Minor, and the originality of its architecture and the unusual arrangement of the decoration are striking. Built around 540 BC in honor of Athena, it proves that the distinction between Doric and Ionic orders was still theoretical in the Archaic period. It shows certain irregularities when compared with the canonical Doric temple design: the fronton is undecorated, the interior is divided into two rooms instead of three, the columns have sixteen flutes instead of twenty, and so on. This temple also has the only known example of a Doric architrave decorated in bas-relief. The principle of the continuous sculpted frieze, the so-called Ionic frieze, is known from the sculpted architrave of the Ionic temple at Didyma, which was dedicated to Apollo around 550 BC. It is borrowed from the Ionic order, in which decoration played a major role. The Louvre's relief, presented to Louis-Philippe by Sultan Mahmud II in 1838, shows the exceptional arrangement of the entablature: the spacing of the regulae, visible at the top of the piece, corresponds to the placement of the metopes and triglyphs, which alternate in a discontinuous frieze, characteristic of the Doric order.

The decoration

The architrave of the temple depicts various mythological scenes, animal combats, and decorative groups, with no apparent connection between them. Nevertheless, several scenes are taken from the life of the Greek hero Hercules: Hercules and the centaur Pholos, the banquet of Eurystheus(?), and the scene on this fragment. Hercules is depicted nude and beardless, his quiver on his back, fighting with a sea-god. Triton (or Nereus), who has a man's body ending in a fish’s tail, brandishes a small fish in his left hand. In the background, six Nereids, frightened by the intensity of the combat, flee the scene waving their arms.

Archaic style and conventions

The geographic location of Assos may have encouraged the spread of various influences between Asia Minor and Magna Graecia—as this temple decoration shows. The relief's crude style and lack of detail stem in part from the hardness of the material, trachyte, a local variety of andesite that is very difficult to sculpt. The style of the figures—squat, rounded, and depicted in profile—is characteristic of Ionian-style creations. There is also a similarity between the Assos reliefs and the metopes from the first temple of Hera, at the mouth of the Silaris (today Sele) river in Italy. This invites comparison with Etruscan art from the same period, which was perhaps influenced by art from this eastern region of Greece. The decoration respects the conventions of Archaic reliefs: the relative size of the figures is based on their importance, and their heads all appear on the same level (isocephaly). The human body consists of a face seen in profile placed on a forward-facing torso, ending in legs that are also sculpted in profile.

Bibliography

M. Hamiaux, Les Sculptures grecques, I, 2e édition, Paris, 2001, p. 68, n° 58


Cl. Rolley, La Sculpture grecque. 1-Des origines au milieu du Ve siècle, Paris, 1994, p. 231-232


B. D. Wescoat, The Temple of Athena at Assos : style, date and iconography, Diss., Oxford, 1983

Technical description

  • Decorative fragment from the temple at Assos

    Circa 540 BC

    Discovered at Assos in Troas (modern Turkey), on the site of the temple of Athena

    Assos, Turkey

  • Bas-relief of trachyte (a volcanic rock related to andesite)

    H. 0.81 m; W. 2.94 m

  • Gift of Sultan Mahmud II, 1838

    Sculpted architrave: the combat between Hercules and Triton

    Ma 2828

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

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