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Siphnian Treasury North Frieze, Unidentified giant

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Siphnian Caryatid, three-quarter view of face from left

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Siphnian Treasury South Frieze, right center of frieze

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Siphnian Treasury North Frieze, Giants: Biatas and another

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Siphnian Treasury East Frieze, Chariot team, Lykos, Aineas standing

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Siphnian Treasury North Frieze, Lion biting giant

Collection: Delphi Archaeological Museum
Title: Siphnian Treasury sculpture
Context: From Delphi
Findspot: Excavated at Delphi
Material: Marble
Sculpture Type: Architectural
Category: Statuary group
Style: High Archaic
Technique: Various
Original or Copy: Original
Date: 530 BC - 525 BC
Dimensions: H. of frieze 0.64 m, Total L. of frieze 29.0+ m, H. of pediment 0.74 m, L. of pediment 3.83
Scale: Under life-size
Region: Phocis
Period: High Archaic

Subject Description:

The Treasury of the Siphnians at Delphi is securely identified by Pausanias (Paus. 10.11.2). It is the second of the thesauroi which he mentions as he systematically records his progress up the Sacred Way. The small building situated in this location was sumptuously decorated with carved and painted detail, which accords with Herodotus' description (Hdt. 3.57) of the treasury as among the richest in the sanctuary. In addition to elaborate moldings, figures of maidens were substituted for the two columns on the west front. Even the maidens' headdresses and the capitals which these supported were carved in relief. Above the architrave a sculpted frieze encircled the building. This is the earliest known instance of a continuous narrative frieze in what became its canonical position on an Ionic building, and Ridgway suggests the concept may have originated at Delphi. Both pediments were also decorated with sculpture, although only the east pediment has survived.

Form & Style:

Although designed and executed within a short span of time just prior to 525 BC, the sculptural decoration of the Siphnian Treasury exhibits two rather distinct styles. This is probably attributable to the division of work between two sculptors and their workshops. The hypothesis seems to be confirmed in an inscription on the north frieze, where one of the artists takes responsibility for the sculptures on the north and the east sides (for the inscription, see the entry on the North Frieze). The stylistic uniformity of these two sides bears out this claim. The carving is bold, varied in depth and makes use of conventions practiced by Attic vase painters. Partly for this reason the sculptor is often thought to have been an Athenian or someone familiar with Athenian work. The style is advanced for its time. Since the name of the artist is illegible (despite several attempts to recognize the names of known personalities), this sculptor is generally referred to as Master B. He is likely responsible for the East Pediment as well.

Master A is the name given to the sculptor responsible for the south and west (front) sides. These two sides likewise share a similar approach. Unlike the varied depth of carving on the north and east, two planes are emphasized: the foreplane of the figures and the background of the relief. Views are mostly confined to the frontal and profile; little use is made of foreshortening and there is limited sense of the figures turning in space. The style is somewhat old fashioned, especially in comparison with the north and east sides. It appears to reflect an East Greek approach. The same sculptor is probably also responsible for the caryatids on the porch. That this sculptor was the older, preeminent artist is likely in view of his assignment of the front of the building. At the time the treasury was built it faced the archaic entrance to the sanctuary. The initial views of a visitor were of the west and south sides. When the Sacred Way was extended in the early 5th century, the approach was changed to the east and the first view was of the back and north sides.

Date Description:

The Siphnian Treasury is one of the most securely dated monuments of the Archaic period. As such, it is extremely important, since the date of so much else is pinned upon it. Our evidence for the date comes primarily from Herodotus (Hdt. 3.57-58). He relates how the Siphnians grew prosperous from their gold and silver mines, how they dedicated the treasury at Delphi from a tithe of their profits and how, when they were building the treasury, they consulted the oracle to ask how long their prosperity would last. He also relates how Samian exiles came to prosperous Siphnos, ravaged the island and eventually extorted the sum of 100 talents. This is linked to Cambyses' attack on Egypt, which took place (according to well-dated Egyptian records) in 525 BC. The ravaging of the island and the huge sum extracted combined to bring an end to the prosperity of Siphnos, exactly as the oracle had foretold. Thus the expensive treasury must have been built by ca. 525, since after that time resources were lacking. How far back the prosperity extended and thus how long before 525 the treasury might have been built is not known, but the sense of the Greek suggests that all these events — the prosperity, the building of the treasury, the consulting of the oracle and the Samian sack — took place within a short space of time. As Robertson notes, the argument is partly circular, but the style of the sculpture accords well with a scheme which places them in the decade of the 520s.

Pausanias (Paus. 10.11.2) provides an additional piece of information. He says that the Siphnian mines were flooded and rendered inaccessible after the islanders neglected to pay the tithe to Delphi. There is no clear linkage of this event to the events of 525, although the evidence of the two sources is sometimes conflated. The text suggests the flooding was due to divine intervention; the suggestion has been made that natural causes were responsible. Whatever the explanation or the date of the closing of the mines, there is no evidence to suggest that Siphnos regained its earlier prosperity.

In 1983 Francis and Vickers suggested a significant downdating of the Siphnian Treasury, by about fifty years (Francis 1983). Boardman elucidated the weaknesses of their argument in a reply the following year (Boardman 1984

Condition: Fragmentary

Condition Description: See the individual entries

Material Description: Parian marble

Inscription: See North Frieze and East Friezes

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

Sources Used: GuideDelphMu 1991; Stewart 1990, 128f.; Brinkmann 1985, 77ff.; Hurwit 1985, 295ff.; Watrous 1982; Boardman 1978a, 158; Ridgway 1977, 269ff. and elsewhere; Robertson 1975, 152 ff.; FdDelph 4.2, 57-171