Use of Movement and Characterisation in the Sculptures of the East and West Pediments of The Temple of Zeus at Olympia The architectural sculpture of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia dates from between 465 and 457BC. Putting the temple into historical context, this was a somewhat flourishing time in Greek history, drama, and philosophy. In 490BC, the Athenians won a great victory at Marathon against the Persians, and in 480BC the Persians sacked Athens but were eventually defeated in a naval victory for the Athenians at Salamis. Greek tragedy was thriving during the fifth century, with Aeschylus’ Oresteia being written roughly around the same time as the sculptures for the temple of Zeus were created, and fifth century philosophy was developing ideas regarding how one should act in society. This information proves to be relevant to our understanding of the development of Greek sculpture in this period, and encourages us to recognise how the sculptures on the Temple of Zeus at Olympia may reflect this prosperous time of Greek history.
In this essay, I will specifically be discussing the use of movement and characterisation in the two pediments of the Temple of Zeus, and how they enhance the narrative of the two stories depicted. I will also explore how the sculpture on these pediments represent the ‘flourishing’ period of Classical Greece - a period when the Greeks were celebratory of their defeat of the Persians, and when new ideas were starting to emerge from sculptors adapting concepts from Greek drama and philosophical ideas.
In his publication, E.N. Gardener argues against the lack of appreciation for the sculptures on the east and west pediments of the Temple of Zeus:
‘The real greatness of these magnificent sculptures has not been as much appreciated as it deserves. We are apt to compare them with the matchless marbles of the Parthenon and feel disappointed, forgetting that they were produced some twenty years earlier, and in the artistic history of the fifth century twenty years is a long period.’
I would certainly agree with this statement. I would argue that the sculptures on both these pediments are impressive examples of early classical sculpture, successfully introducing the depiction of emotion which was lacking in the archaic period. The sculptures receive expression in suitability to the story that is depicted on the pediment, establishing more of a naturalistic element to the architectural sculpture compared to that of the archaic period. In some cases, gestures and emotions are more restrained than others ; however this does not mean to say that the sculptors were incapable of depicting emotion, but rather they chose not to express it on certain figures, for reasons that I will discuss in further detail later in this essay. In order to explore how the movement and characterisation of the sculptures enhance the narratives, I will now discuss each of the myths in...