This term, though resting on no better authority than that
of the Scholiast on Aristophanes (Aristoph. Kn.
), is now customarily used to denote those gold and ivory
statues which were the highest attainments of Greek plastic art.
The use of these costly materials seems to have been originally a development
of the early art of wood-carving. The first artists who produced
chryselephantine statues were pupils of Dipoenus and Scyllis, the Cretan
“Daedalids.” Though we hear of no such works by these
masters themselves, they used ivory in conjunction with ebony (Paus. 2.22
gilding the wood, a quite common proceeding, the transition would be made.
The appropriateness of the two materials would then suggest the restriction
of the ivory to nude parts, of gold to drapery, &c., a core of wood
still underlying the whole. Such probably were the works of Doryclidas,
Theokles, Dontas, and other artists of the earlier portion of the 6th
century B.C. We do not hear of many chryselephantine works of importance
during the late archaic or transitional period; but some of the
“Xoana” mentioned by authors may belong to this class, the name
being constantly applied even to later specimens. But the construction of
colossal figures, such as the Olympian Zeus and Athene Parthenos of Phidias,
or the Argive Hera of Polycletus, can have had little in common with mere
wood-carving. For these, of course, a most elaborate internal framework was
necessary; attempts have been made to restore by conjecture these figures
and the processes by which they were constructed, as by M.
Quatremére de Quincy in Le
In the latter portion of the 5th century B.C. the
pupils of Pheidias found many states able and willing to grant the enormous
expenditure necessary for the erection of a chryselephantine colossal
figure; but in later times opportunities for such enterprises could but
rarely occur. Kings, however, came to arrogate to themselves a distinction
formerly appropriated to the gods: thus the portrait-statues by Leochares in
the Philippeum at Olympia were of gold and ivory. So late as the time of
Herodes Atticus these materials seem to have been still in request for the
most magnificent statues.