When you think of ancient Greece, humungous beautifully carved sculptures come to mind, or don’t they?
(Athena Varvakeion, a small Roman replica of the Athena Parthenos by Phidias; image courtesy of Pinterest.)
Mighty Athena and formidable Zeus; both with a core of wood and covered in carved ivory, embellished with gold, all at the hands of Phidias – sculptor of the Classical Greek era. Athena stands tall in the Parthenon at Athens at 40 ft.; Zeus is seated in the temple at Olympia, 36 ft. tall.
These towering structures were known as Chryselephantine sculptures, the word chryselephantine itself suggests ivory covered in gold (chryso- is used in combination with another word to indicate the use of gold). The face, the arms and the legs of these figures were carved in ivory and the embellishments which consisted of armour, robes, jewellery/ accessories and locks (literally golden locks) were distinguishable from the ivory body parts because they were covered in gold leaf.
(Statue of Zeus, The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; image courtesy of Pinterest.)
However, nothing of the original art remains to this day with the exception of miniatures (replicas) from the archaic era and remnants of certain sculptures which lead to knowledge of these towering structures. Quite unfortunately and yet understandably, it is the expensive nature of the materials used that led the statues to be destroyed during the periods of warfare.
More about the fascinating Gold leaf technique in the next post.