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Sikyonian Metopes, Ram

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Sikyonian Metopes, The Ship Argo

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Sikyonian Metopes, Dioskouroi Stealing Cattle

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Sikyonian Metopes, Dioskouroi Stealing Cattle

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Sikyonian Metopes, Dioskouroi Stealing Cattle

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Sikyonian Metopes, Calydonian Boar

Collection: Delphi Archaeological Museum
Title: Metopes of the Sikyonian Treasury
Context: From Delphi
Findspot: Excavated at Delphi. The metopes were found in 1894, in and around the Sikyonian Treasury (boar: on the foundations, facing down; Europa, Cattle and Argo fragments: between the Sikyonian and Knidian Treasuries; Ram: in front of the east end of the Siphnian Treasury).
Summary: Mythological subjects: Dioskouroi and others
Material: Limestone
Sculpture Type: Architectural
Category: Statuary group
Placement: Doric frieze
Style: High Archaic
Technique: High relief
Original or Copy: Original
Date: ca. 570 BC - ca. 550 BC
Dimensions: L. ca. 0.87+ m, H. ca. 0.58 m, D. ca. 0.16 m, D. of relief ca. 0.08 m
Scale: Miniature
Region: Phocis
Period: High Archaic


Subject Description:

Included among the numerous architectural fragments built into the foundations of the later Sikyonian Treasury (Delphi, Treasury of the Sikyonians (III)) are the remains of a rectangular monopteros, to which the archaic sculptures belonged. This open-sided, roofed structure was supported by fourteen small columns (four by five), which carried a Doric frieze. Triglyphs were placed only over the columns, resulting in metopes of unusual width (proportion of width to height about 3:2). Of the original fourteen metopes, substantial portions of five as well as smaller fragments of others were found scattered around the foundations of the later treasury. They were sculpted in high relief and painted; detail was added with contrasting color and sometimes incision.

The metopes were decorated with mythological scenes. Identification of the figures was aided by painted inscriptions in the field. The five well-preserved metopes include:

1) A boar, presumably the Kalydonian. The large, powerful body, shown in profile, takes up the entire metope (broken on the right). Its size is emphasized by comparison with the small dog beneath its torso. Its ferocious nature is indicated by the bristling hair along its spine. It charges to the right. Hunters and perhaps the rest of a pack of dogs (a fragment of a second dog exists) must have occupied an adjacent metope. A probable inscription and traces of black paint on the bristles and the pupil of the eye were noted at the time of excavation.

2) A woman on a bull, presumably Europa on Zeus. The bull is shown in profile, moving right. It occupies the full width of the metope (broken on the right; head of bull missing) but is not out of scale with respect to the woman. The treatment is generally similar to that of the boar, though the distinctive features of each animal are represented. The fleshiness of the bull's neck is indicated by narrow, parallel folds which are modeled over the sagging skin of the throat and chest. The woman rides with both legs on the right side of the bull. She clutches his neck with her left hand and his rump with her right. Her dress is smoothly rendered with minimal modeling; detail is provided by the stripes of incised and painted pattern. A second, folded garment draped over her arm is decorated with similarly patterned stripes.

Idas following Kastor and Polydeukes (names inscribed) with cattle, the booty of a raid (broken at the left; presumably the figure of Lynkeus, brother of Idas, was shown here). The three extant figures are represented in nearly identical scale, dress and pose, despite the difference in their status and roles (Idas and Lynkeus were mortals, and in most accounts at odds with the Dioskouroi). Each wears a belt, boots and a cloak pinned over the right shoulder. The three appear to be driving the herd, which is shown three deep. The cattle are depicted in profile, except that those in the most forward plane turn their heads ninety degrees to a fully frontal position. The turned heads and the representation of the legs in parallel, successive planes combine to give an impression of extraordinary depth. The impression is increased by the position of the figures in front of the cattle. Again the legs are shown in profile, but the torsos and heads (faces destroyed) are represented in three-quarter view.

4) The ship Argo with two musicians, including Orpheus (inscribed) on the right, and the Dioskouroi on horseback on either side (Polydeukes inscribed, on the left). (Several fragments preserve the left and right sides of the metope; the missing section in the middle probably included one other figure in the boat. The right side has been trimmed to fit behind the triglyph.) The left fragment includes the prow of the ship, which is shown in profile. At the right edge of the metope the ship is cut abruptly in mid-section. Another fragment, which does not belong to this slab, demonstrates that the ship continued on another metope. The French suggest that it may have continued onto a third, thus raising the possibility that one side of the building was illustrated by a single subject (the short ends of the structure carried three metopes; however, the position of the various metopes within the frieze is not known). All figures are shown frontally, the lyre players who stand in the boat as well as the Dioskouroi on horseback outside it. One interpretation has the boat on shore, with the Dioskouroi on land. A second interpretation has the boat afloat, with the Dioskouroi represented as apparitions in their role as protectors of ships at sea. Note the treatment of the horse's mane like human hair, long beaded tresses which fall to either side of the neck.

A sheep with a woman, possibly Helle on the Golden Ram. The upper right quarter of the metope preserves a woolly sheep, with the arm of a woman (well preserved only at the wrist, which is adorned with a bracelet) holding onto its neck. The upper part of her body must lean far forward, thus in a posture close to that of Europa on the bull. The head of the sheep is broken away. A woman riding a sheep recalls the story of Helle and Phrixos, children of Athamas, who were saved from being sacrificed (ordered by a false report of the Delphic oracle) by a Golden Ram, who carried them away.

Two theories are current regarding the identity of the monopteros. One, which holds that the structure was a Sikyonian dedication, is based on the type of stone, the style and technique of the metopes and, to some extent, on the subject matter. The other, which holds that it was the dedication of a West Greek city, is based on the use of carved metopes in the building, the prominence of the Dioskouroi as subjects in the decorative scheme and on certain iconographical details.

Sikyonian dedication: The architectural fragments of both early buildings (there are blocks from a second building as well as from the monopteros) reused in the foundations of the Sikyonian Treasury are cut from the same soft limestone, which is said to match stone from a quarry near Sikyon. This lends support to the idea that, at least in the archaic period, material from dismantled dedications within the sanctuary remained the property of the original dedicator, available for reuse by them if desired. If Pausanias's identification of the Late Archaic treasury as Sikyonian is correct, the earlier buildings would be as well (Paus. 10.11.1). The style of the reliefs, which is both painterly in certain respects and experimental in terms of sculptural relief, would also fit with Sikyon. The advanced use of perspective, particularly in the Cattle metope, the addition of elaborate pattern with a combination of incision and paint, and the palette of purple, reds, oranges and black is reminiscent of the painting of the northeast Peloponnese. The Sikyonians were known for their painting and also receptive to developments in sculpture. When the early sculptors Skyllis and Dipoinos, students of the mythical artist Daedalos, moved to Sikyon from Crete, it was already an established center of the arts (Pliny, NH 36.9; he gives their date (birth?) as the 50th Olympiad, i.e. 580-577; cf. Stewart Sculpture, T15). The coalescence of all this activity at Sikyon is not coincidental but directly related to the reign of the tyrant Kleisthenes, ca. 600-565. Because the style of the metopes point to a date in the second quarter of the 6th century, the monopteros has been thought his dedication. He was interested in Delphi (one of the principal participants in the First Sacred War), presided over Sikyon during a period of flourishing artistic activity and is known to have instituted an anti-Argive policy which directly affected such activity. Although Herodotus (Hdt. 5.67) recounts only the effect on musical activity, the subject matter of the metopes, lacking episodes from the Homeric and Theban cycles, may reflect the same policy. (A posthumous dedication, or one by his successor, may fit better with the style of the sculpture. Since it appears that Kleisthenes' successor continued his policies, this would not substantially alter the argument (Griffin 1982, 57, 108ff.).) Whether or not the subjects are specifically Sikyonian is another matter. Stewart reminds us that the oars of the Argo and the lance with which the Kalydonian boar was killed were both preserved at Sikyon, and there is a distant connection with Europa. Although the Dioskouroi were not the primary deities of Sikyon, they were worshipped there.

West Greek dedication: According to this theory, any connection between the monopteros and the later Sikyonian Treasury cannot be proven. Ridgway argues that the development of the use of carved metopes is linked more closely with Magna Graecia than with the Peloponnese or with Delphi itself, and that therefore the monopteros was more likely commissioned by a West Greek city. She stresses, however, that the commissioner and the builder of a monument need not be the same. De la Genière and Szeliga have independently taken up this line of argument, attributing greater importance to the prominence of the Dioskouroi in the reliefs. De la Genière argues that the building was a dedication of the West Greek city of Lokroi Epizephyroi, where the cult of the Dioskouroi was especially celebrated following the battle of the Sagra. Szeliga focuses attention on the Argo metope(s), where he thinks the Dioskouroi are represented as protectors of ships and sailors. Though he emphasizes the East Greek origin of this cult, he believes the frequent appearance of the Dioskouroi in West Greek architectural decoration and the importance of their cult in the West Greek colonies point to this region, perhaps Sicily in particular, as the source of the Delphic monopteros. He further suggests that this aspect of the Dioskouroi is directly related to Apollo as protector of the colonies, for whom the dedication was ultimately intende

Condition: Fragmentary

Condition Description: Five substantially preserved metopes, and fragments of several others. The figures were identified with painted inscriptions. The surface condition varies, and is excellently preserved in some fragments, but very worn in others.

Inscription: Painted names; see the Description.

Associated Building: Delphi, Older Treasury (Monopteros) of the Sikyonians

Sources Used: GuideDelphMu 1991, 42ff.; Stewart 1990, 115; Szeliga 1986; Salviat 1984, 213ff.; de la Genière 1983, 158ff.; Griffin 1982, 106ff.; Boardman 1978a, fig. 208; Ridgway 1977, 231ff.; Robertson 1975, 67ff.; FdDelph 4.1, 18ff.

Other Bibliography: Vojatzi 1982