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Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 237

In Athens, after Pheidias, the greatest sculptures were those used to adorn the Erechtheion. The group of Caryatids, maidens who stand erect and firm, bearing upon their heads the weight of the porch, is justly celebrated as an architectural device. At the same time, the maidens, though thus performing the work of columns, do not lose the grace and charm which naturally belongs to them.

Another post-Pheidian work at Athens was the temple of Nike Apteros, the wingless Victory. The bas-reliefs from this temple, now in the Acropolis Museum at Athens, one representing the Victory stooping to tie her sandal, another, the Victory crowning a trophy, recall the consummate grace of the art of Pheidias, the greatest Greek art.

Agoracritos left behind him works at Athens which in their perfection could scarcely be distinguished from the works of Pheidias himself, none of which have come down to us. But from the time of the Peloponnesian war, the seeds of decay were in the art of Hellas, and they ripened fast. In one direction Callimachus carried refined delicacy and formal perfection to excess; and in the other Demetrios, the portrait sculptor, put by ideal beauty for the striking characteristics of realism. Thus the strict reserve, the earnest simplicity of Pheidias and his contemporaries, were sacrificed sacrificed partly, it is true, to the requirements of a fuller spiritual life, partly to the demands of a wider knowledge and deeper passion. The legitimate effects of sculpture are strictly limited. Sculpture is fitted to express not temporary, accidental feeling, but permanent character; not violent action, but repose. In the great work of the golden age the thought of the artist was happily limited so that the form was adequate to its expression. One single motive was all that he tried to express a motive uncomplicated by details of specific situation, a type of general beauty unmixed with the peculiar suggestions of special and individual emotion. When the onward impulse led the artist to pass over the severe limits which bounded the thought of the earlier school, he found his medium becoming less adequate to the demands of his more detailed and circumstantial mental conception. The later sculpture, therefore, lacks in some measure the repose and entire assurance of the earlier. The earlier sculpture confines itself to broad, central lines of heroic and divine character, as in the two masterpieces of Pheidias. The latter dealt in great elaboration with the details and elements of the stories and characters that formed its subjects, as in the Niobe group, or the Laocoon, to be mentioned later.

These modern tendencies produced as the greatest artists of the later Greek type Scopas and Praxiteles.

Between these, however, and the earlier school which they superseded came the Athenian Kephisodotos, the father, it may be supposed of Praxiteles. His fame rests upon a single work, a copy of which has been discovered, the Eirene and Ploutos. In this, while the simplicity and strictness of the Pheidian ideal have been largely preserved, it has been used as the vehicle of deeper feeling and more spiritual life.


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