|Collection:||Delphi Archaeological Museum|
|Title:||North Frieze of the Siphnian Treasury|
|Findspot:||Excavated at Delphi|
|Original or Copy:||Original|
|Date:||530 BC - 525 BC|
|Dimensions:||L. 8.6 m, H. 0.64 m|
|In Group:||Delphi, Siphnian Treasury sculpture|
On the long, north side of the building facing the Sacred Way, the frieze depicts a single subject: a battle between the gods and the giants. It was a subject familiar to artists of the archaic period, especially to vase painters, though previously it had not been treated in such monumental form. The sculptor, whose name has been lost to us but who was proud enough of his work to sign the relief (on the shield of one of Apollo's opponents), took advantage of the large space to convey a sense of the complexity of the battleground. Gods and giants, often fighting in pairs or triads, are interwoven left and right, up front and far back. In general the gods approach from the left, the giants from the right, according to the convention often used to indicate the victors (in this case, the gods), so that it is easy enough to tell who is friend and who is foe. However, individual identity was important as well, and to this end the sculptor borrowed the vase painter's solution of inscribing names alongside each figure, sometimes in the field, sometimes on the molding below. A new study of these inscriptions (
On the left Hephaistos, recognizable from the bellows with which he manufactures arms for the gods, is named on the vertical molding which frames this scene. Next to him two goddesses have been called Demeter and Persephone or the Moirai (in this interpretation the third Fate is restored in the lacuna at right). The fragmentary inscription above Hephaistos' head has been variously interpreted to support one or another of these hypotheses. Brinkmann now suggests that the letter tracings be restored as "Hestia" (retrograde) for a new identification of the goddess adjacent to Hephaistos. The second goddess, and whoever occupied the lacuna, remain unidentified.
On the long slab which follows, a pair of giants face left to confront the goddesses. Giants were also named individually; in this instance some tracings remain although not enough to permit a restoration. Further to the right Dionysos, wearing a panther skin over a short chiton, strides toward an oncoming foe. A substantial portion of his name is preserved on the molding beneath his feet. Alongside him a goddess, once assumed to be Cybele on the basis of her lion-drawn chariot, has been identified by Brinkmann as Themis. Her name is also written on the molding below her feet (for the alternative "Thyia" see
The next confrontation involves the brother-sister pair of Apollo and Artemis; clear traces of both names survive on the molding below. He wears a short chiton and has his hair gathered at the nape of the neck. She wears a crisply pleated dress with long overfold, of fine material. Their nearest opponent, who looks back over his shoulder at them as he flees, wears a helmet whose crest is supported by a small kantharos. Much has been made of the play upon his name, which is inscribed in the field between his legs. The name of Ka[n]tharos is usually read there. Brinkmann finds no trace of the first two letters and calls him Tharos. On the ground lies the dead Ephialtes. Advancing left toward Apollo are a trio of giants: Hyperphas, Alektos and one whose name ends in ...us. It is on the shield of this last that the sculptor inscribed his name and designated the work for which he was responsible, i.e. this frieze and the one at the back (east). The stylistic and thematic unity of the north and east friezes support the claim.
The left end of the adjacent slab has not been preserved, leaving a sizable lacuna near the center of the North Frieze. It begins with the foreparts of a team of horses. Since the figure of Zeus does not appear elsewhere on the North Frieze, it is usually assumed that this is his chariot. In her careful study of the lacunae (but written before Brinkmann's study of the inscriptions), Moore (
Next, Athena single-handedly attacks two giants, one of whom is called Eriktypos. Beyond this group, the giant Astarias lies dead while Biatas and another giant attack a male figure with long hair and beard whose name is partially preserved on the molding beneath his feet. Brinkmann reads parts of four letters including a "chi", from which he restores "Achilles". The figure has also been identified as Ares. Still ahead is another group of two giants fighting a god. He is long-haired, bearded and wears a skin over his chiton. On the molding Brinkmann reads faint traces of a name which is easily restored as "Hermes". The last figures preserved on the broken, right end of this fragment are a god and a figure with long chiton riding in a chariot. Their names have not been preserved, but the absence of Poseidon and Amphitrite elsewhere in this scene make it likely that they are represented here. The actual end of this long slab is preserved in a small fragment which joins the corner return of the West Frieze. On it are the right leg and torso of a giant who faces the missing chariot team. Overlapping with him a single, unidentified god does battle with two giants, one of whom has been forced to his knees while the second, Mimon (his name is inscribed on the vertical molding which closes the scene, like that of Hephaistos on the east end) acts to save his companion.
Form & Style:
The friezes on the north and east sides of the Siphnian Treasury share a remarkably similar style, distinctive from that on the south and west sides. It is characterized by the close juxtaposition of many figures, boldly modeled and carved in many degrees of depth. The sense of three-dimensionality is enhanced by the frequent use of foreshortening, particularly of objects such as shields and chariot wheels but also sometimes of the figures themselves. The constant overlapping of bodies, especially on the north side, adds to a sense of the scene extending back into space, as on an actual battlefield. The compositional structure of the east is different. The shorter overall space is divided into two scenes, each of which is more intimate in nature than the battle on the north. Yet the depiction of the chariot teams in three-quarter view, for example, has much the same effect of breaking through the back plane. The three-quarter quadriga is conventional in vase painting by this date, although not in sculpture. Other elements, often noted, also link this master to the artistic medium of painting: the addition of many details in paint as well as in metal, the technique of identifying the figures with labels, the act of "signing" the work itself. There is ample justification for assuming this artist was a painter as well as a sculptor. His name is not known, though the surviving portion of the inscription on the north frieze that claims responsibility for the north and east sides is welcome corroboation of the evidence provided by the style. The artist is known as Master B, since his was the lesser commission in a sense, i.e. the back of the building and one of the sides. He may have been less senior than Master A. In any case, his style can reasonably be called more "advanced" in that it incorporates the latest artistic developments and pioneers them in architectural relief. Many of these developments took place in Athens and it is often suggested that he may have worked there, though he need not have been from there himself.
Date Description: See
Condition Description: Two long and two short fragments (after joins), leaving three lacunae. The majority of the north frieze is preserved, consisting of two long and two short fragments (after joins). In addition to the three major lacunae, some of the most deeply carved elements, especially limbs of the figures, have broken away. Considerable traces of paint when found, including evidence of many of the inscriptions. Condition varies: in some areas even the detail is excellently preserved; elsewhere the sur.
Inscription: Sculptor's inscription: On the shield of the third giant opposing Apollo and Artemis: (the name has been deliberately defaced)
Associated Building: Delphi, Treasury of the Siphnians (IV)