Thomas Bulfinch > The Age of Fable > Vols. I & II: Stories of Gods and Heroes > XXXV. b. Statues of Gods and Goddesses
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Thomas Bulfinch (1796–1867).  Age of Fable: Vols. I & II: Stories of Gods and Heroes.  1913.

XXXV. b.  Statues of Gods and Goddesses
 
TO adequately represent to the eye the ideas intended to be conveyed to the mind under the several names of deities was a task which called into exercise the highest powers of genius and art. Of the many attempts four have been most celebrated, the first two known to us only by the descriptions of the ancients, the others still extant and the acknowledged masterpieces of the sculptor’s art.   1
  
THE OLYMPIAN JUPITER

THE STATUE of the Olympian Jupiter by Phidias was considered the highest achievement of this department of Grecian art. It was of colossal dimensions, and was what the ancients called “chryselephantine;” that is, composed of ivory and gold; the parts representing flesh being of ivory laid on a core of wood or stone, while the drapery and other ornaments were of gold. The height of the figure was forty feet, on a pedestal twelve feet high. The god was represented seated on his throne. His brows were crowned with a wreath of olive, and he held in his right hand a sceptre, and in his left a statue of Victory. The throne was of cedar, adorned with gold and precious stones.
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  The idea which the artist essayed to embody was that of the supreme deity of the Hellenic (Grecian) nation, enthroned as a conqueror, in perfect majesty and repose, and ruling with a nod the subject world. Phidias avowed that he took his idea from the representation which Homer gives in the first book of the “Iliad,” in the passage thus translated by Pope:
        “He spoke and awful bends his sable brows,
Shakes his ambrosial curls and gives the nod,
The stamp of fate and sanction of the god.
High heaven with reverence the dread signal took,
And all Olympus to the centre shook.” 1
   3
  
THE MINERVA OF THE PARTHENON

THIS was also the work of Phidias. It stood in the Parthenon, or temple of Minerva at Athens. The goddess was represented standing. In one hand she held a spear, in the other a statue of Victory. Her helmet, highly decorated, was surmounted by a Sphinx. The statue was forty feet in height, and, like the Jupiter, composed of ivory and gold. The eyes were of marble, and probably painted to represent the iris and pupil. The Parthenon, in which this statue stood, was also constructed under the direction and superintendence of Phidias. Its exterior was enriched with sculptures, many of them from the hand of Phidias. The Elgin marbles, now in the British Museum, are a part of them.
   4
  Both the Jupiter and Minerva of Phidias are lost, but there is good ground to believe that we have, in several extant statues and busts, the artist’s conceptions of the countenances of both. They are characterized by grave and dignified beauty, and freedom from any transient expression, which in the language of art is called repose.   5
  
THE VENUS DE’ MEDICI

THE VENUS of the Medici is so called from its having been in the possession of the princes of that name in Rome when it first attracted attention, about two hundred years ago. An inscription on the base records it to be the work of Cleomenes, an Athenian sculptor of 200 B.C., but the authenticity of the inscription is doubtful. There is a story that the artist was employed by public authority to make a statue exhibiting the perfection of female beauty, and to aid him in his task the most perfect forms the city could supply were furnished him for models. It is this which Thomson alludes to in his “Summer”:
        “So stands the statue that enchants the world;
So bending tries to veil the matchless boast,
The mingled beauties of exulting Greece.”
   6
  Byron also alludes to this statue. Speaking of the Florence Museum, he says:
        “There, too, the goddess loves in stone, and fills
The air around with beauty;” etc.
And in the next stanza,
        Blood, pulse, and breast confirm the Dardan shepherd’s prize.
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  See this last allusion explained in Chapter XXVII.   8
  
THE APOLLO BELVEDERE

THE MOST highly esteemed of all the remains of ancient sculpture is the statue of Apollo, called the Belvedere, from the name of the apartment of the Pope’s palace at Rome in which it was placed. The artist is unknown. It is supposed to be a work of Roman art, of about the first century of our era. It is a standing figure, in marble, more than seven feet high, naked except for the cloak which is fastened around the neck and hangs over the extended left arm. It is supposed to represent the god in the moment when he has shot the arrow to destroy the monster Python. (See Chapter III.) The victorious divinity is in the act of stepping forward. The left arm, which seems to have held the bow, is outstretched, and the head is turned in the same direction. In attitude and proportion the graceful majesty of the figure is unsurpassed. The effect is completed by the countenance, where on the perfection of youthful godlike beauty there dwells the consciousness of triumphant power.
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THE DIANA A LA BICHE

THE DIANA of the Hind, in the palace of the Louvre, may be considered the counterpart to the Apollo Belvedere. The attitude much resembles that of the Apollo, the sizes correspond and also the style of execution. It is a work of the highest order, though by no means equal to the Apollo. The attitude is that of hurried and eager motion, the face that of a huntress in the excitement of the chase. The left hand is extended over the forehead of the Hind, which runs by her side, the right arm reaches backward over the shoulder to draw an arrow from the quiver.
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Note 1.  Cowper’s version is less elegant, but truer to the original:
        “He ceased, and under his dark brows the nod
Vouchsafed of confirmation. All around
The sovereign’s everlasting head his curls
Ambrosial shook, and the huge mountain reeled.”

  It may interest our readers to see how this passage appears in another famous version, that which was issued under the name of Tickell, contemporaneously with Pope’s and which, being by many attributed to Addison, led to the quarrel which ensued between Addison and Pope:
        “This said, his kingly brow the sire inclined;
The large black curls fell awful from behind,
Thick shadowing the stern forehead of the god;
Olympus trembled at the almighty nod.”
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