Greek Architecture

A revision guide on architecture for AQA Classics.

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  • Created on: 04-04-13 16:26
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Architectural Sculpture
If a polis was wealthy enough, they would decorate their temples with sculpture. Depending on the
order of the temple (Doric or Ionic), the sculpture would be on different areas of the structure:
Temple Decoration: Doric and Ionic:
The frieze of a Doric temple consists of triglyphs and metopes. Metopes are large square panels,
and would be decorated with relief sculpture . The pediment of a Doric temple could also be
decorated with free-standing sculpture. Ionic temples would have a continuously sculpted frieze of
relief sculpture (or it would have been continuously blank, depending on the polis' wealth), as well
as pediment filled with free-standing sculptures.
Sculpture still attached to the original block from which it was carved.

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Problems with Pediments:
As a pediment is a long, low triangle, it presented a number of difficulties for Greek sculptors. The
shape of the pediment causes problems with the scale of figures; as if the central figure is to fill the
apex of the triangle they must be larger than anybody else in the composition.…read more

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Although the West Pediment of the Temple of Aphaia at Aegina is sophisticated in its
solution of the problems regarding pediments, it is not as successful in other respects. The
sculpture shows the archaic sculptors' continued struggle to attain realism. The dying
warrior above shows many typically archaic traits:
The warrior has an archaic smile, even though he's dying.
The figure's torso faces stiffly outwards, suggesting a high level of frontal
The limbs are stiff and angular, which creates a series of triangular shapes.…read more

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However, there is a marked change in the appearance of the statues on the East pediment,
particularly the dying warrior:
The frontal emphasis of the Archaic Period has gone, and is replaced with a twist in the
warrior's physique.
The warrior's left arm and wrist droop, giving the impression that strength is draining from
The figure's blank, expressionless face gives the warrior a sense of seriousness and dignity,
which seems more fitting as he is close to death.…read more

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Myth on East Pediment: 460BC
The East pediment shows the mythical race between Pelops and King Oenomaos. The King
challenged any suitor of his daughter Hippodameia to a chariot race, confident that he
would always win due to his divine horses. The hero Pelops bribed the King's groom,
Myrtilos, to tamper with his master's chariot. Due to Myrtilos' sabotage, the King is thrown
from his chariot and dies, allowing Pelops to marry the fair Hippodameia.…read more

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East Pediment: Symbolism
The fact that Zeus stands in the centre of the East Pediment is a mark of respect for
the supreme deity as his statue would face the sun as it rose.
Zeus' position between the two competitors indicates his role as the judge of
athletes at the Games. Presumably, this would have had an enormous relevance to
the competing athletes at Olympia.…read more

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West Pediment: Symbolism
The drunken, sex-crazed Centaurs represent the forces of barbarism. For the Greeks,
surrendering to animal appetites is an indication of chaos and irrationality. The Lapiths
represent the forces of order, reason, and civilisation ­ defending their customs and
institutions from the dark forces of barbarity.
This symbolism would've had huge relevance for the athletes that would assemble at
Olympia for the Games every four years. The Greeks associated the Persians with
Centaurs, and themselves with the Lapiths.…read more

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Problems with Metopes:
There are several issues that have to be considered by a metope sculptor if the sculpture is to be
As metopes would be placed high up on the building, their position potentially
makes them difficult to see from the ground. One way of overcoming this issue was
to sculpt the metopes in very high relief. With high relief (or deep relief as it is
sometimes called), the sculpture projects a long way from the original block that it
was carved from.…read more

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The sculptor has successfully coped with the limitations of the metope's frame in a number
of ways:
The Bull and Herakles leap away from one another, pushing against the confines of
the metope's square. This gives the composition a sense of drama and dynamic
The crossed figures of Herakles and the bull create a pair of strong diagonal lines,
which produces a strong focal point for the viewer's gaze.…read more

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Again, the sculptor has coped with the difficulties of sculpting a successful metope very
The frame of the metope is used to help convey the narrative: the top of the metope
is used to depict the sky that Herakles is holding up.
The differences between gods and mortals are conveyed by the fact that Herakles is
a head shorter than the other two figures of gods (Athene and Atlas).…read more


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