Denton Jaques Snider.

Music and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic online

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First it would be well to catch up some
salient expressions of ancient authors who
were eye witnesses of the God's appearance
in the statue at Olympia and who testify to
the divine grandeur of the vision. Our fa-
vorite of all these Classic utterances is the
epigram of Philippus of Thessalonike who


probably lived in tlio time of Trajan, lieiice
ill the decline of Greek Art.

"Phidias, say, did the God come down to

thy workshop in person.
Or to Olympus didst mount, viewing him

there in his home?"

This pointed alternative pivots upon the
artistic character of Phidias as the- immedi-
ate beholder and shaper of the Gods. Tlie
Roman commander Aemilins Panllns, ac-
cording to Plntarch, regarded the Zeus of Phi-
dias not merely in the light af the Homeric
conception embodied, but as the very pres-
ence of the God, and would sacrifice to him as
to Rome's Capitoline Jupiter. The Roman
rhetorical writer Quintilian declares that this
Olympian statue had helped to keep alive
the existent religion, as revealing visibly
all the majesty of the supreme God himself.
Plotinus, the neo-Platonic philosopher, prob-
ably of Egyptian blood, speaks of the artist
beholding in the Spirit how the Great God
would take this shape, were he to speak to us
face to face. Thus we have the words of men
of diverse nationalities and faiths witness-
ing the divine epiphany at Olympia in Sculp-
ture; this would seem to arouse not only in
the Greek but in all men the real presence of
divinity, reaching down we may well think,


to tlie original elemental God-consciousness
which rises in the rise of humanity itself
and unfolds with the same, being also the
ultimate ground of its Art. Such Avere the
depths of the soul which could be stirred by
the vision of this statue, as the record runs.
A somewhat different phase of its power is
set forth in the deep-toned words of Dio
Chrysostom, the golden-mouthed rhetor:
''Whoever is heavy-laden in spirit, and op-
pressed with many cares and sorrows, such
as human life brings, so that he is no longer
restored by sweet sleep: let him but stand
before this image of Zeus and I believe that
he will forget all his burdens and anxieties :
to such a height of excellence, Phidias, hast
thou thought out and wrought out thy work,
such light and grace lies in thine Art." In
this passage one hears almost a Christian
note, an influence not impossible, as Dio was
a native of Asia Minor and wrote about 100
A. D. Legend has recorded the miraculous
sign of the God's acceptance of the artist's
work : when his long labor was finished, Phi-
dias prayed Zeus for an omen of approval;
at once a flash of lightning shot through the
open roof of the temple from the sky and
struck the white pavement where a stone of
black marble ever afterwards marked the
spot, indicating the God's recognition of his


supreme artist. So Pausanias, the old trav-
eler, reports in liis guide-book from personal
inspection. There is no doubt that Phidias
had a deep religious faith, and communed
immediately with the Olympians, otherwise
he never could have been the great God-maker
to his folk, re-creating the Creator himself
in a mighty act of divinely creative energy.

But whence did the artist get his primal
suggestion, the impulse and the joy to do his
work? That was the nod of Zeus himself as
recorded In- Homer in a famous scene (Iliad,
Book I). Several ancient authors have re-
ported the anecdote that Phidias on being
asked what was the original model of his
Zeus, responded with the citation of the fa-
mous Homeric nod:

"Speaking, Great Zeus then nodded above
with eyebrows cerulean,

And then he shook the ambrosial locks of the
ruler immortal.

Round his head, with whose nod high Olym-
pus was twirled in an earthquake."

So sings old Homer, not in English hexam-
eters, verily, but in Greek. Still we shall
try to give the echo of the ancient lines, hint-
ing the will and majesty of the highest God
of Hellas which stirred Phidias to his primal


conception and its realization. In fact the
latter is still the best commentary on the old
Hellenic hard, transforming Homer's God-
world into Scnlpture. But there yet remains
the query: Why just then! Can we find any
hint why at that time's conjuncture not sim-
ply the God, but the God of all the Gods for
once only in full visible revelation should
descend into the work of Phidias? The
answer calls for some account of his life and
institutional environment.

]. Before Phidias.

A brief account of Sculpture antecedent to
Phidias has its place here, since there was an
early, indeed pre-historic evolution of this
Art on Greek soil. The pre-Phidian time is
just at present the subject of a very minute
and wide-spread investigation; everywhere
on the Greek islands and the mainland exca-
vations are the order of the day. The result
is an enormous mass of crude antiques which
have not vet been sifted and ordered, and
whose artistic value is often exaggerated by
the narrow specialist.

The borderland between Greece and the
Orient — Cyprus, Crete, Asia Minor — has
yielded many curious forms of transition out
of the old East into the rising AVest. At the


same time traces of an indigenous civilization
with its Art have been uncovered at Mycenae
and at other places excavated by Schliemann
and his successors. A background of Art has
been dug out of the earliest Greek poems,
those of the Homer and Hesiod, and its parts
pieced together with skill. Perhaps the most
interesting fact brought forth by these inves-
tigations is to observe how every Greek com-
mune had its need of Art, and frequently its
own artistic tendency. From hundreds of
little centers Sculpture was shooting up out
of the soil, as it were, or rather out of the
sprouting Greek consciousness. -Thus early
we may feel the universal impulse of Hellas
to artistic form.

In this throbbing mass of Hellenic commu-
nities we begin to observe a twofold division
quite at the dawn of history : the division in-
to Ionic and Doric Greeks, which is likewise
reflected in Art. We shall see that this dis-
tinction holds out in Sculpture to the end.
Another and deeper division is also mani-
fest : the separation from and conflict with
the Orient. This was the fate hanging over
both the Ionic and Doric tribes, and which
we find already in Homer whose theme in the
Iliad is based upon the struggle between
East and West. Homer's heroes before
Troy were really the protagonists of Hellas


against Asia, and tlio Persian War to the
Greek consciousness was the continuation of
the Trojan War. The well-known statues
from the pediment of the temple of Athena at
Aegina are mythical figures of Troy, but rep-
resent the historic struggle at Salamis
against the Persian, in which the Aeginetans
won the palm of bravery. This temple with
its sculpture was doubtless erected as a me-
morial of that event. A similar procedure
we shall notice running through all Greek
Art: a long-past mythical event is taken to
heroize present history.

About the time of the Persian War Greek
Sculpture had blossomed into a number of
thriving schools, each of which had its pupils
and its constituency. This Art had flowered
with the flowering of the Greek City-State of
whose spirit and ideal it was the supreme
artistic utterance. Argos, Sicyon, Aegina
had become famous centers of training and
production — all of them Dorian. But Ionic
Athens was not lagging; it had produced two
sculptors of special distinction, Calamis and
Myron, before the rise of Phidias. Myron
in particular was famed for his fidelity to
nature ; his sculptured cow called forth many
a Greek epigram, and excited a word from
modern Goethe. His Discobolus and his
Marsyas are still extant in fairly well certi-


fiecl copies, and show a strong realistic sense
in seizing the concentrated moment of an
action which indicates both a before and an
after. Naturalism was his bent, he was still
a follower of the Doric school at Argos where
he received his chief training, and gained a
marvelous proficiency in technical skill. But
he has no strain of the Attic idealism Avhich
is soon to become so prominent in Phidias.
Pliny, doubtless reflecting ancient criticism,
says that "Myron concerned himself only
with the body, not with inner states. In his
realism he was the first to attain versatility. ' '
Still there remained in his work to the last
an element of archaic stiffness and conven-
tionality. His Art was not yet free.

But the supreme artistic counterpart to
Phidias was his somewhat vounger contem-
porary, Polycletus, highest product of the
Doric school at Argos. He was, like Phidias,
a pupil of the great Argive pedagogue in
Sculpture, Ageladas, from whom sprang the
two diverse tendencies streaming through all
the later Art of Greece. This division cor-
responded to that of Athens and Sparta,
Ionic and Doric, idealism and realism, dem-
ocracy and artistocracy, progressivism and
conservatism, to which list many other con-
trasting categories might be added. The two
artists Phidias and Polycletus became a


fountain of rhetorical comparison like Ra-
phael and Michelangelo, Goethe and Schiller,
Pope and Dryden. Doubtless Roman Quin-
tilian summed up the best judgment of an-
tiquity in ascribing to Polycletus the high-
est excellence in treating the human form,
but in denying to him the sublimity required
to represent the Gods. This statement is
made in face of the fact that Polycletus pro-
duced some statues of deities — his Argive
Hera was much celebrated by a certain class
of ancient writers, probably those who pre-
ferred a pronounced realism even in the di-
vine form.

We may, therefore, conclude that Polycle-
tus was no inspired God-maker, like Phidias ;
his field was to give the noblest shapes to the
human body, as we may still see in the re-
maining copies of his two chief works (the
Doryphoros and the Diadumenos, to which
may be added several figures of his Amazon).
He wrote a book on the canon or the stand-
ard type of the human form and its right pro-
portions of which the Doryphoros was the
example. His favorite model evidently was
the victorious athlete, product of Doric train-
ing. A certain rigid formalism or square-
ness (the word of ancient Varro) may still
be noted in his figures — a Spartan fixity in
the given rule or canon. His Art is not yet


free, we have to think, with all its Doric ex-
cellence; his shapes cannot be the trans-
parent abode of the God in the descent into
hnman form and finitude.

So we behold Sculpture, the sovereign ar-
tistic expression of the Greek consciousness,
cleaving into two basic tendencies of mind,
often called the real and ideal, each of which
has its representative in a supreme Greek
sculptor. This twofoldness permeates, yea
rends asunder the whole Greek people along
with their history, making them Ionic or
Doric, followers of Athens or Sparta, cham-
pions of Phidias or Polycletus, in the realm
of Art.

Still Athens will win the palm and become
the center of Hellenic civilization at its high-
est; in like manner Phidias will win the palm
and become the greatest of all sculptors. He
will unite the dissidence of the real and ideal,
of the human and divine at one supreme mo-
ment of his artistic creation. But after him
the old cleavage will start afresh till in Ly-
sippus the breach becomes complete. Accord-
ingly there will be a post-Phidian develop-
ment of Sculpture, which will be character-
ized in its place.

But at present we are to stand ourselves
on the very apex of plastic Art, and to ob-
serve its perfection as far as possible. Never


again will Sculpture attain siieli plenitude
and pre-eminence of utterance; it envisages
not merely Hellas but Civilization itself of
wliicli Hellas is now the chief upholder and
representative. Moreover it concentrates in
one personality which we may call heroic in
its way. So we are next to consider Phidias
who is the product of the antecedent evolu-
tion already given.

2. Phidias.

We may well think that the greatest of the
statues of Phidias is himself. Most of his
forms have perished, still we can discern the
colossal form-maker of these forms amid or
behind their ruins. Through him the World-
Spirit for the first and last time expresses
itself in Sculpture. In this light we shall try
to project some faint image of the man, his
works, and his career.

Phidias, son of Charmides, was born at
Athens probably about 500 B. C. (this date
has been disputed, and is not documented,
but it best agrees with the known facts of his
life). He was, accordingh^, a boy about ten
years old when the Athenians under Milti-
dades marched out against the Persians and
fought the battle of Marathon. The impress
of such a local, yet world-historical event up-
on the mind of such a youth, whose relatives


and neighbors must have participated in the
struggle, could not fail of stimulating his na-
tive bent. He must have heard how Pallas
Athena, the divine Protectress of the city,
appeared on the field of battle and assisted
in person her people. Thus ancient Hero-
dotus recounts the appearance, and he, while
gathering many years afterwards materials
for his History at Athens, could still have
heard the marvelous story from Maratho-
nian survivors. Now this elemental faith of
the people in the visible manifestation of
their deity, at the critical moment, is the
deep source from which Sculpture springs;
they call for this Art as their soul's last need,
and sustain it when arisen with zeal, yea with
worship. The youth Phidias was nourished
on the Mythus, not as some plaything of fan-
cy or illustration of moral truths, but as an
ever-welling fount of popular conviction.
There is little doubt that Phidias shared in
this faith of the folk-soul ; in fact it was the
primal condition of his becoming the supreme
artist of his city and of his nation. The ulti-
mate creed of every true Athenian was that
the Gods fought along at Marathon; far
otherwise had run the tale of the conflict if
they had not been present and taken hand in
the fight. Moreover another article of faith
lay fermenting deep in the Greek conscious-


ness: it was that Troy and Marathon be-
longed together, both being stages of the one
long and desperate battle against the Orient,
and both showing the same descent and inter-
vention of the Gods of Hellas in the fray of
mortals. So the spirit of the time was sculp-
tnresque, calling for the artist not merely as
man-maker bnt as God-maker in the material
shapes of Art.

In the ten years between Marathon and
Salamis the boy grows to be a yonng man
with complete athletic and military training.
No person conld escape the duty; everybody
at Athens and thronghout all Hellas knew
that Persia was getting ready for a more
overwhelming onset against the whole Greek
name. And every Athenian was well aware
that his city on account of Marathon was the
special object of Oriental vengeance. Phidias
grew to manhood under this desperate anxi-
ety of his city, seemingly marked for destruc-
tion unless Athena, their divine Protectress
again should come to the rescue. One may
well think that it was a time for the exercise
of faith in their Gods — a great training in
their religious spirit, which seemed to inspire
those Athenians with an equal part of self
reliance and God reliance. So we may con-
strue (unhistorically, of course) this decen-


nial discipline of Phidias for his coming-

At last the blow fell. The handful of Spar-
tans died fighting at Thermopylae — a very
valorous, but unfruitful, yea senseless act of
heroism. Athens cannot resist the deluge of
foes; its people betake themselves to their
ships, to "their wooden Avails" on the advice
of Themistocles, and, with the other Greeks,
win Salamis, the most significant naval battle
of history. ' Sadl}^ tliej^ return to their ruined
city and begin building it anew, after the de-
feat of the Persian at Platseae. So Phidias,
then a young man of 20-21 years, doubtless
as a sailor and soldier, must have gone
through this nation-testing experience with
his people, whose faith in themselves and in
the Gods had become the paramount trait of
their character. He had moved with the
great transition out of the East to the West
at its chief crossing in time, he had turned
a node with Universal History, he had been
present at the new birth of Athens, of Hellas,
yea of Europe, and of civilization. In his
responsive soul he must have felt dimly and
unconsciously, the mighty parturition of an
epoch of which he was to become the supreme
interpreter through his Art.

In such a way we conceive the apprentice-
ship of Phidias to his people and age. He had


already found liis artistic bent as sculptor,
tliougli lie also learned to be a painter. The
traditional forms of his Art he could acquire
at Athens, and it has been handed down that
he went to Argos to study with Ageladas,
then the most famous sculptor of Greece.
Thus he could learn technique, skill in anat-
omy, especially the athletic presentment of
the human body. But the indwelling of the
God therein he could not get from his Argive
master ; that had to be his own. Perhaps his
most distinguished contemporary and rival,
Polycletus, was a fellow-pupil at Argos, who
stayed in the Peloponnesus and kept up the
Doric element of his Art, rather than the di-

The general sweep of the artistic career of
Phidias we can make out fairly well, and,
therein trace his inner development. He
keeps step with the evolution of Athens
which at that time, more than any other spot
on the globe, was the scene of the World's
History. His life runs on a parallel line with
three greatest Greek statesmen, Themisto-
cles, Cimon, Pericles — each of whom had in
his soul not only a civic and national outlook,
but also a world historical strain, of which
their fame still today is a witness. This
movement of the artistic Phidias we shall
look at in its three main stages.


(I) Upon the expulsion of the Persian
host (479-78B.C.) the Athenians had as their
first dnty, after housing themselves mid their
city's ruins, to secure their independence,
which was always endangered by the jeal-
ousy of the Dorians, especially of the Spar-
tans. Hence Themistocles hastened to build
the walls of Athens, which was done with
such precipitation, that everybody Avas
pressed into work, and every object seized
for the construction. Only when the city was
engirdled by such a defence, did it feel itself
safe and autonomous. Then began that free
inner flowing of its spirit which has been the
wonder of time. Through the spoils of the
Persian war, the Athenian treasury became
well supplied with funds, and upon the in-
ducements of Themistocles, artists and arti-
sans flocked from all parts of Greece to win
a golden harvest and help build the new city.
In such a seething artistic environment Phi-
dias must have lived and wrought till about
his thirtieth year when Themistocles was
banished (471 B. C), and Cimon became the
head of the State, who upheld with increased
energy the adornment of Athens with public
monuments. But Cimon in turn was ostra-
cised after some ten years (461 B. C), and
his place at the helm of government w^as soon
taken by Pericles, the favorite of the people
and the great promoter of Art.


During' this period of his life Phidias was
deep in his work, and the names of some
of his statues have been handed down.
Among the better known was the Delphic
group, whose center was Miltrades placed
between Athena and Apollo, doubtless an
offering of Cimon, son of Miltiades in honor
of the Marathonian victory of his father.
Much more impressive was the colossal
bronze image of Athena Promachos on the
Acropolis, whose helmet and spear-tip could
be seen by friend and foe approaching from
the sea. Indeed Phidias during this period
seems to have been chiefly emploj^ed on stat-
ues of Athena; we hear of such at Pellene,
at Lemnos, at Plat^ae, besides those already
mentioned. Of this Goddess he created the
accepted type for the future, though he varied
it himself especially in the Lemnian statue,
which was accounted in antiquity his most
beautiful work. In recent years this statue
has been much discussed on account of its
attempted reconstruction by the German
archaeologist, Furtwangler. In general it
may be said of Phidias during this period
that he was specially the sculptor of Athena,
the divine protectress of his city, coming
therein to feel the immediate throb of the
people's faith, in deep accord with his own.
Also his productions appear to have been in-


dividual examples, or connected only in ex-
ternal groups. We lack tlie evidence for
tracing the artist's gradual transition into
his next period, but the difference becomes
epochal for the man and his Art.

(II) The second Period of Phidias can be
designated as Periclean from his friendship
and alliance with Pericles in making Athens
the artistic city of the world. It may be sup-
posed that their co-operation began when the
artist was about forty years old and lasted
more than twenty years till the completion
and dedication of the Parthenon with its
ivory-golden statue of Athena (438 B. C)
which has perished, and can be re-conceived
only from inadequate copies. But the sculp-
tures in the two pediments of the temple have
been partially saved and they enable us to
get a fair idea of the art of Phidias. On the
whole they are pronounced by the best judges
to be the greatest examples of statuary now
extant. Since they were set up in the Brit-
ish Museum (generally known there as the
Elgin Marbles), they have been widely and
deeply studied till they have changed the
standard of criticism for their Art, and have
begotten an admiration somewhat one-sided
in its excess, as we think. Still they are
rightly considered the center and culmina-
tion of all Sculpture of all times.


The main fact of tliis new departure wliicli
constitutes properly tlie Second Period of
Phidias, is that he organizes Sculpture,
whose shapes remain no longer separate and
individual, but are associated by a deep in-
ner bond which united them as integral parts
of a great Whole. Undoubtedly attempts of
this sort had been made previously, notably
at Aegina. Now we can say of Phidias that
he not only perfected the single human
shapes of Sculpture, but that he also social-
ized them, making them in themselves insti-
tutional, while they mirrored the Greek in-
stitutional world. So we have to regard the
groups of figures belonging to the pediments
of the Parthenon, when we grasp them in
their highest creative source. Undoubtedly
each statue has first the right to be consid-
ered in itself, in its own beautiful individu-
ality; but then it must also be taken as one
single member of a large sculpturesque soci-
ety embracing not only the Parthenon but
the entire Acropolis. This fact doubtless
mirrored an early ambition of Pericles and
of his people too, who would associate most,
if not all the City-States of Hellas with Ath-
ens. The political part of the program failed,
but the artistic part succeeded marvelously,
for the hegemony of Athenian Sculpture es-
tablished bv Phidias exists today, in fact it


has flowered out recently into fame, with
wondrous new life.

The epos of Sculpture we may call this
work of Phidias, a statuesque Iliad with
Gods brought down from Mount Olympus to
dwell on Acropolis hill in a kind of social
order which also has its Homeric prototype.
For the Iliad is a great organic poem, not an
external group of scattered ballads (as some
critics try to make out), having an order of
Gods above and of men below organized into
a poetic system. Phidias, however, practi-
cally dethrones Zeus in his Parthenon on the

Online LibraryDenton Jaques SniderMusic and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic → online text (page 12 of 32)