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A&A Art Print: Respond and Connect.

Frederic Edwin Church. The Parthenon, 1871.

What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others." Pericles

MAIN VISUAL ART CONCEPTS: Line * Value * Color * Texture * Contrast * Proportion * Luminism

COMPOSITION: About half this painting depicts the ruined architecture in the shadows of sunset. Church was facing east, with the remaining sunlight spotlighting the warm colors of the building and stone surfaces in contrast with the cool, blue, gradated sky.

RELIGION: Originally built to honor the Goddess Athena, the Parthenon later served as a Christian church (fifth century C.E.) and an Islamic mosque (15th century C.E.). In 1687 it was being used as a storage place for ammunition, which exploded and destroyed the central area of the building when shelled by the Venetian army.

GEOLOGY: The structures on the site of the Acropolis exemplify Doric and Ionic styles. They were built from marble mined from Mount Pentelicus, almost 15 miles north of Athens. Pentelic marble, a metamorphic rock, has been used for sculpture and as a building material. It can contain veins of graphite, mica, iron oxide, quartz or pyrite, but is usually described as semi-translucent, fine-grained and pure white.


In 1811, Lord Byron wrote about Lord Elgin pillaging the Parthenon in his satirical poem, "The Curse of Minerva."

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Most of Church's paintings depict natural landscapes with just a small hint of human life. In this piece, the man-made building and the ruins dominate his canvas. Church and his wife Isabel lost their first two children to diphtheria in 1865. In 1867, a year after the birth of their third child, the family traveled on their own pilgrimage to Old World and Holy Land sites. Church specifically visited Athens in 1869 to create oil sketches of the Parthenon. His completed image might symbolize the persistence and power of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

POLITICS: Was it pillage or preservation? Originally, all along the top edge of the interior walls of the Parthenon was a band of colorfully painted scenes carved in bas relief depicting a festival procession in celebration of Athena. The frieze consisted of 115 blocks that ran a total length of 524 feet and almost 3.5 feet high. In 1801, the Scottish Lord Elgin removed many of the carvings and had them shipped back to England. Today pieces of the frieze are distributed between the Acropolis Museum, the British Museum, the Louvre, and other European museums. Greece began formally requesting the return of the antiquities from Britain in 1832, still to no avail.

MATH: Size and scale. Church's painting of the Parthenon is massive: about 4 feet high and 6 feet wide. The size of the painting complements the scale of the Parthenon itself, which stands 45 feet tall, 101 feet wide and 228 feet long. The human figure in the foreground brings to life the real proportions of the Parthenon and the expansive site of the Acropolis.


The "fustanella" (similar to a Scottish kilt) worn by the figure in the foreground is the traditional garb of men in the Greek military at the time. It was the primary military costume during the Ottoman Empire (1299 -1924) and is still associated with Greek culture today.

HISTORY: The Parthenon was built in the fifth century B.C.E. as a temple to honor Athena, the goddess of wisdom, arts, literature, and war. The sculptor Phidias was the primary designer, and Ictinus and Callicrates were the primary builders. The building process was directed by the statesman Pericles.

ARCHITECTURE: It took about nine years to construct the Parthenon. Some say that even with our contemporary tools, we could not build such a structure of the same material so quickly. The chisels and other tools that were used by the ancient Greeks left traces of metal that indicate they were unusually strong. The formulas for forging such tools have been lost.

Caption: The Parthenon in Greece.

Caption: Frederic Edwin Church (American; 1826-1900). The Parthenon, 1871. Oil on canvas; 44.5" x 72.62". Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Bequest of Maria DeWitt Jesup, from the collection of her husband, Morris K. Jesup, 1914. @Public domain.
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Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:4EUGR
Date:Sep 1, 2018
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