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Siphnian Treasury West Frieze, Hermes

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Siphnian Treasury West Frieze, Aphrodite (?) mounting chariot

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Siphnian Treasury West Frieze, chariot with Athena mounting

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Siphnian Treasury West Frieze, left end of frieze with Hermes and chariot ...

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Siphnian Treasury West Frieze, right slab

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Siphnian Treasury West Frieze, left slab

Collection: Delphi Archaeological Museum
Title: West Frieze of the Siphnian Treasury
Context: From Delphi
Findspot: Excavated at Delphi
Summary: Judgment of Paris (?)
Material: Marble
Sculpture Type: Architectural
Category: Statuary group
Placement: West frieze
Style: High Archaic
Technique: High relief
Original or Copy: Original
Date: 530 BC - 525 BC
Dimensions: H. 0.64-0.68 m (varies), Restored L. 6.26 m, L. of P + Q 3.84 m, L. of restored "key" block 0.18 m, L. of missing right section of frieze 2.24 m
Scale: Under life-size
Region: Phocis
Period: High Archaic
In Group: Delphi, Siphnian Treasury sculpture

Subject Description:

Approximately two-thirds of the west frieze has been preserved, consisting of two long blocks, P and Q. From the short return on its left end, we know that P is a corner block occupying the left third of the frieze. The male figure in the corner is easily identifiable as Hermes, wearing winged boots and a short cloak, carrying a kerykeion (bronze tip missing) and reaching forward, probably to calm the horses. Facing him is a team of winged horses hitched to the chariot of Athena (wheel once in bronze). Though the upper portion of Athena is severely eroded, she is clearly identifiable by the snaky aegis which envelopes her. She steps into the chariot with her right foot, the remains of her left foot still on the ground. Behind her is a second male figure. He is badly damaged and, beyond his function as attendant to Athena, his identity is difficult to establish.

To the right of Block P was a small "key" block ca. 0.18 m in width, now missing. Its existence has been proven on architectural grounds, on the basis of marks on the top of Block Q which correspond to related points on the crowning course above. Whatever was carved upon this missing "key" block — a figure and a palm tree have both been postulated — served as a transition between the narrative elements of Blocks P and Q.

To the right of the "key" block, occupying the central third of the frieze, is Block Q. It must belong in this position since it has no corner return. It too depicts a woman, probably another goddess, with a chariot and team. Unlike Athena, she appears to be stepping out of her transport, as if she has just arrived. The action of her right hand, sometimes interpreted as fingering her necklace, has led to her identification as Aphrodite. Another suggestion, given new credence by a careful study of Greek chariots, has her grasping the reins, but this does not alter the identification of her as Aphrodite (Moore 1985. Several difficult-to-decipher elements on the right end of this slab may represent the fronds of a palm tree, a landscape element perhaps counter-balanced by another tree on the missing "key" block just discussed.

The similar compositional scheme of Slabs P and Q make it likely that the missing third slab also depicted a goddess with a chariot. If the identification of the central goddess as Aphrodite is correct, the subject is perhaps the Judgment of Paris. The third slab would then depict Hera with her team and presumably the figure of Paris. The greatest problem with this interpretation is the lack of parallels in archaic art for the inclusion of the chariots. However, such depictions of the subject are known from a later period, and the design may represent an invention of this sculptor in response to the unusual length of the field to be filled. Though it is not certain that the subject is the Judgment of Paris, no other suggestion, e.g. the Arrival of Herakles in Olympos, has been more persuasively argued.

For a proposed reconstruction of the West Frieze following a detail discussion of its various elements, see Moore 1985. Note in particular the symmetrical positioning of the trees over the caryatids, indicating that the sculptor/designer considered the effect of the composition not only within the frieze itself, but also as it related to the facade as a whole. Its position on the front of the building gave it particular prominence, and certainly both the subject and composition were designed with that prominence in mind.

Form & Style:

The west and south friezes of the Siphnian Treasury are clearly the work of one sculptor's workshop, though there is no inscription which confirms this, as in the case of the north and east sides. The style reflects the fully developed Ripe Archaic tradition. Compositionally each side is divided into distinct units. These consist of relatively few figures in conjunction with chariots and teams of horses, widely spaced with open areas in between. The spaces would have appeared less open in antiquity with the addition of painted details such as reins. However, the effect would still be one of a procession passing in front of a solid wall. The chariot teams provide the greatest sense of depth, with the horses massed one in front of the other, each carved in a slightly more recessive plane. The heavy reliance on the profile view, however, greatly limits any real sense of depth. The modeling is very shallow, though quite subtle in detail, with the attention to surface pattern — e.g, the treatment of the manes and tails of the horses — characteristic of earlier archaic sculpture. The clothing and heads (especially "Aphrodite" on the west side) suggest the same sculptor was responsible for the Caryatids on the building's front. The oval shapes of the faces look particularly East Greek, although connections between the Cyclades and Ionia were so strong that it is difficult to speak with confidence of the sculptor's homeland. Ridgway points to certain iconographic details, such as the winged horses of Athena, and to the processional quality of the compositions, as additional clues which suggest an East Greek heritage.

Date Description: See Delphi, Siphnian Treasury sculpture

Condition: Fragmentary

Condition Description: The left corner block (P) and the center block (Q) are essentially complete. Some of the corners and parts of the figures have broken away, including a large part of Athens's upper torso and head, Aphrodite's left arm and parts of her chariot and team. These blocks make up approximately two-thirds of the frieze. The right corner block and a narrow "key" block, often restored between Blocks P and Q, are missing. Very heavily weathered; in many cases the surface is extremely eroded.

Material Description:

Parian marble

Technique Description: High relief is very deeply undercut.

Associated Building: Delphi, Treasury of the Siphnians (IV)

Sources Used: GuideDelphMu 1991; Stewart 1990, 128f.; Moore 1985; Hurwit 1985, 295ff.; Watrous 1982; Boardman 1978a, 158; Ridgway 1977, 269ff. and elsewhere; Robertson 1975, 152 ff.; Ridgway 1962; FdDelph 4.2, 57-171