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Work Tenth metope from the south façade of the Parthenon

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Tenth metope from the south façade of the Parthenon

© 2006 Musée du Louvre / Daniel Lebée et Carine Deambrosis

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

The Parthenon Temple was built to glorify Athens (led by the Athenian-born Pericles) and the goddess Athena, between 447 and 432 BC. Its Doric frieze portrays mythological combats designed to vaunt Athenian superiority over the Persians. This metope illustrates the Centauromachy, a battle between the centaurs (half-man, half-horse) and the Lapiths (a people from the region of Thessalia). A Lapith woman is being abducted, in a composition that retains much of the Early Classical style.

A fragment from the Parthenon's Doric frieze

This high-relief marble metope was sent by Louis François Sébastien Fauvel to the Comte de Choiseul-Gouffier during the French Revolution, but was intercepted by the English and eventually sold at public auction in London. The fragment was purchased by the Scottish landowner Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and 11th Earl of Kincardine, to enhance his own collection of marbles from the Parthenon; Elgin later returned it to its original owner, however. The relief originally decorated the south facade of the Parthenon -part of the Doric frieze of ninety-two metopes alternating with triglyphs. The enormous Parthenon temple was built on the Acropolis at Athens during the Classical period, between 447 and 432 BC. Its construction was part of a series of major works undertaken in the aftermath of the Persian Wars (490-480 BC) and the destruction wrought by the Persians. Pericles, who dominated Athenian political life from 464 to 429 BC, entrusted the overseeing of the Parthenon's construction to the sculptor Phidias, who worked with the architects Iktinos and Kallikrates.

Combat: the Parthenon's central decorative theme

The Parthenon, built to glorify Athens and the goddess Athena, was intended as a manifestation of Athenian superiority, particularly after the heavy defeat inflicted by the Persians in 480 BC. The decoration of the temple's Doric frieze was inspired by mythological combats, designed to symbolize the superiority of the Greeks over their enemies and, by analogy, that of the Athenians over the Persians. The reliefs on the north side show the sack of Troy (Ilioupersis), the west façade shows the battle against the Amazons (Amazonomachy) and the east side depicts the Gigantomachy, or battle against the Giants. The metopes on the south side show scenes from the Centauromachy, in which mythical centaurs (half-man, half-horse), fought with the Lapiths, a people from Thessalia. The combat took place during the wedding celebrations of Pirithous, King of the Lapiths, at which the drunken centaurs attempted to abduct the wives of their hosts. The Louvre relief shows the abduction of a Lapith woman by one of the creatures. With a violent movement that has caused the brooch holding her garment to fly open, the young woman attempts to free herself from the centaur's grasp. The centaur's head was lost after 1674, and a part of his right arm is in the Acropolis Museum in Athens.

The influence of the Early Classical style

The composition has its roots in the artistic formulae characteristic of Early Classical decorations created some fifteen years earlier. In order to enhance the violence of the confrontation, the sculptor has placed the figures on a diagonal, adopting a composition similar to those seen on the metopes of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (circa 460 BC). The scene plays on the contrast between the bestial body of the centaur, with its bulging veins, and the stiff folds of drapery that both reveal the nude female figure and frame the struggle between the two. The notable lack of decorative detail reinforces the dramatic intensity of the moment.

Bibliography

Hamiaux (M.), Les sculptures grecques, I, 2e édition, Paris, 2001, p. 135, n 127
Mantis (A.), "Nouveau fragment de la 10e métope sud du Parthénon", in Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique, 110, 1986, p. 619-624, fig. 1-4 a, b
Michon (E.), "Les fragments du Parthénon conservés au Louvre", in Revue Archéologique, 1894, 1, p. 73-83

Technical description

  • Tenth metope from the south façade of the Parthenon

    Between 447 and 440 BC

    Fragment recovered from the foot of the Parthenon on the Acropolis at Athens, by Louis François Sébastien Fauvel in 1788.

    Athens

  • Pentelic marble (Attica), sculpted in high relief

    H. 1.35 m; W. 1.41 m

  • Former Choiseul-Gouffier collection. Purchased 1818.

    Centaur abducting a Lapith woman

    N° d'entrée LL 87 (n° usuel Ma 736)

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Salle de Diane
    Room 6

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