Sculpture and Society in Archaic and Classical Athens
What was it that motivated the inhabitants of Athens to commission, make and erect so many sculpted monuments over the sixth and fifth centuries BC? For dedication, their alternatives were infinite, from dresses and cakes to precious metal vessels and oikoi; and in the sixth century, it had not been long ago that vases, not statues, had served as grave markers. So why did they embrace the sculpted form of these monuments with such enthusiasm?
For one, there is something about a sculpted human form, painted to look alive, that inspires amazement and recognition at the same time. That the Greeks were acutely aware of this is shown by their stories of Daidalos and other sculptors whose figures looked like they would step down from their pedestal any second, frozen in timeless lifelikeness. However, explanations based on ethos and aesthetics fall short of the practical routine necessary for the statue’s existence. Before the statue was there to marvel at, those involved had to go through a lengthy and convoluted process of ordering, quarrying, carving, polishing, transporting, painting, and ‘driving into place’ the sculpture. However appealing the wonder of an Akropolis full of perfect, not yet smashed up statues of the late sixth century may be, under this cover of romanticism is, to put it plainly, a lot of dust and marble chips.
Following their trail has proven to be revealing. The increasing specialisation and professionalisation of quarrying over the sixth and fifth centuries certainly...
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