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How to See the British Museum in Four Visits online

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another rider, dismounted, who appears to be rubbing a hurt on his
left leg. The two following slabs (52,3) are horses and men; - on the
latter, a dismounted man in a flowing robe endeavouring to curb a
rearing steed. On the next slab (54) are two horsemen mounted, the one
to the right wearing a hat that has a modern appearance, and is
similar to those worn by dignitaries of the Greek church at the
present time. A fine horse and graceful horseman occur in the right
corner of the slab 55, - the action of the horse is finely sculptured.
The remaining sculptures of the western frieze represent figures of
mounted and dismounted horsemen, of which the visitor may notice the
graceful figures on slab 57 (where the horse is rubbing his leg), and
slab 60, where the figure to the right appears to be only preparing to
join the procession. Having examined these, the visitor should at once
proceed to examine the remarkable points of the


These are numbered from 62 to 90, and reach back to the northern side
of the entrance to the saloon. The slabs marked from 62 to 77 consist
of horsemen, galloping, often two or three abreast: some with helmets
and armour, and others nude; and the slabs marked from 78 to 82 have
sculptures of chariots drawn by four horses (mostly) abreast. These,
however, present no new points to which it is necessary to draw the
visitor's particular attention. The business of the festival, &c.,
begins to be apparent in the seven last slabs (84-90). Here the
victims appear. In the first (85) a bull appears to be giving no
little trouble to some attendants, and to be utterly regardless of the
solemnity of the occasion. A bull, full of action, is the principal
object on the next slab (86): and on the next (87), one appears calmly
walking to his doom. Upon the return of the slab (90) is a figure
finely executed, supposed to be that of a magistrate surveying the
progress of the procession. The sacrificial oxen are said to be
masterly representations of the finest specimens of these animals.

Having examined these bas-reliefs, the visitor should at once turn to
the groups which occupied central space in the saloon, and which
originally adorned the eastern and western pediments of the Parthenon.


These occupy the central space towards the southern end of the saloon.
The group on the eastern pediment originally represented the birth of
Minerva. The visitor will probably be first attracted to the great
recumbent figure marked 93, generally believed to have represented
Theseus, the Athenian hero, whose biography opens the series of
Plutarch's Lives. The figure is now much mutilated; the nose has been
chipped, and the feet are wanting, but still the form reclining on a
rock is majestic. Mr. Westmacott, in a lecture, gave his reasons for
believing that this statue was meant for Cephalus, of whom Aurora was
enamoured, and not Theseus. "This work [the pediment] it must be
observed, related to the most remarkable event in Athenian mythology,
and was confined only to that event. All the gods of Olympus were
present at the birth of Minerva. Now Theseus was not only not in
existence, but was patronised and protected by Minerva; it would seem,
therefore, extraordinary that he should be admitted as a witness of
her birth. If it is really Theseus, he could only have been introduced
by Phidias in compliment to the Athenians; but whether this could on
so very sacred an occasion have been allowed, may very reasonably be
doubted. Hercules, even the older, or Idaean Hercules, was, upon the
same principle, equally inadmissible, the Athenians acknowledging or
worshipping no Hercules prior to the son of Alcmene, who was
contemporaneous with Theseus, and consequently posterior also to
Minerva. Now the mythology of Cephalus is not only in unison with
Pausanias, but the admission of that person would in no degree affect
the harmony of the Attic types, or principles of Athenian worship.
Cephalus was as celebrated for heroic virtues as for his beauty."

The fragment numbered 91 is part of a figure of Hyperion rising out of
the sea. It marked that angle of the pediment to the left of the
spectator, and the arms are stretched forward urging his coursers.
Near him are, alas, only the heads of two of his horses (92). The next
group that presents itself for notice is that of two sitting figures
(94), the one to the left leaning on the right shoulder of the other.
This is a wreck of a group that represented Ceres and her daughter
Proserpine on the pediment. Next in succession is a figure full of
action (95): this is Iris, the messenger of the gods, but the
particular property of Juno, on her way to carry to remote parts the
interesting intelligence of the birth of Minerva. A torso of Victory
is placed next in order of succession (96). The figure is now
wingless, but holes can be seen which once attached them to the
statue. Three Fates, beautifully draped (97), and a head of one of the
horses (98) of the chariot of Night which occupied the angle of the
pediment on the spectator's right, complete the recovered fragments of
the eastern pediment.

Hence the visitor should turn to the fragments from the


The subject illustrated on the western pediment was the contest
between Minerva and Neptune for the honour of giving a name to Athens.
The relics of these sculptures will now engage the visitor's
attention. Undoubtedly the first object that will attract his notice
will be that numbered 99. This recumbent figure has a noble presence
even now, headless and otherwise mutilated as it is. Canova stood
undecided between this figure and that of Theseus (or Cephalus,
according to Mr. Westmacott) as to which was pre-eminently beautiful.
The figure before which the visitor now stands is generally received
as the statue of Ilissus, who was the Athenian god of the river
Ilissus, which watered the southern side of the Athenian plain. Others
have declared it to be Theseus reposing after his herculean labours,
and contemplating the contest between the two deities. Having fully
examined this fine sculpture, the visitor should turn to the fragments
of the Minerva. A small fragment of the upper part of a face (101) is
all that remains of Minerva's head, the holes being still visible by
which the goddess's bronze helmet was fastened to the statue.
Hereabouts, also, is a fragment of the statue (102), and a coil of the
serpent that was about the figure (104). The torso marked 100, from
the western pediment, is conjectured to be part of a statue that
represented Cecrops, the founder of Athens, at the contest. The next
fragment is the torso of Neptune (103); and hereabouts is the cast of
the group supposed to have originally represented Hercules and Hebe.
The second object, marked 104, is the cast, presented by M. Charles
Lenormand, of a head in the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris, supposed
to belong to one of the statues of the western pediment. A torso of a
wingless or Athenian Victory is the next object that demands notice
(105): the figure was represented without wings, in token of the
inseparability of the goddess from the Greek capital. Another object
is marked 105: this is the head of the Victory; or rather a cast from
the original head presented to the trustees by Count de Laborde.
Lastly, of the western pediment sculptures, the visitor will remark
the lap of a figure, with a portion of an infant remaining: this ruin
is all that is left of Latona and her two children, Diana and Apollo.
Having fully examined these ruins of the Parthenon, the visitor must
direct his immediate attention to the remains collected from the ruins
of the celebrated


The temple of the Erectheum was situated at Athens, less than two
hundred feet distant from the Parthenon. It was the temple of Athene
Polias, or Minerva and Erectheus; and adjoining it was the chapel of
Pandrosus. Philocles of Acharnae was the architect of the building,
which Lord Aberdeen, reiterating the opinion of many great
authorities, in his "Inquiry into the Principles of Beauty in Grecian
Architecture," styles the most perfect known specimen of the Ionic
order of architecture. It was built on the spot where Neptune and
Minerva are supposed to have contested the honour of naming Athens.
When Lord Elgin visited Athens, the vestibule of the temple was a
Turkish powder magazine.

Before examining the few relics from this fine building in the saloon,
the visitor should notice the second object, marked 106, which is the
cast of a head found during the progress of excavations at Athens,
between the ancient gate of the Peloponnesus and the temple of
Theseus. Having passed from this relic, the visitor will at once
examine the architectural relics of different parts of the Erectheum,
which are more interesting to the architectural student than to the
general visitor. The fragment 109 is the lower portion of a draped
female statue; the relic marked 110 is part of the shaft of an Ionic
column; the capital of a column, 125, is very beautiful: but the
object that will be most attractive to the general visitor is the
statue marked 128, known in architecture as a Caryatid, which was used
in the temple of Pandrosus instead of columns. Hereabouts also, amid
the miscellaneous fragments, the visitor should notice a colossal
headless and heavily-draped figure, marked 111. This is the wreck of
the great statue of Bacchus which surmounted a monument erected three
hundred and twenty years before the Christian era, by Thrasyllus of
Deceleia, to record the victory of a tribe at a great festival of
Bacchus. This statue has been variously christened. Some believe it to
be the fragment of a Niobe; others of a Diana. It is generally allowed
to be a noble sample of Greek sculpture. Hereabouts, also, is the
well-known imperfect statue of Icarus (113), brought in fragments from
the Acropolis. The urn marked 122 is a sepulchral vessel, with figures
in bas-relief; 123 is a sepulchral column, with an Athenian name upon
it; and then the visitor will pass rapidly the fragments of Doric and
Ionic columns from various Greek temples. With the casts beginning
from 136, the visitor will start with his examination of the fragments
from the


When the ashes of Theseus, long after his death, were conveyed in
state to Athens, festivals were instituted in his honour; and a
magnificent temple was erected to his memory nearly five centuries
before our era. The sculptures of the temple represented the exploits
of Theseus, and of Hercules, with whom Theseus was always on terms of
great friendship, and to whom he gave the highest honours his country
could afford. The subject of the frieze (which the visitor will find
against the eastern wall of the saloon, numbered from 136 to 149), has
been variously explained, but is shrewdly conjectured to be the Battle
of the Giants, in which Hercules played a prominent part, and in which
the giants are said to have hurled rocks at their adversaries, like
pebbles. This battle was fought in the presence of divinities, who are
represented seated upon slabs (137-8-133-4.) This frieze was on the
most conspicuous part of the temple. The frieze that flanked the
building was sculptured with the exploits of Theseus; and here the
visitor will once more see the battle of the Centaurs and the Lapithae
illustrated (150-154). The Centaurs hurling huge stones, and wielding
the stems of trees; and the invulnerable Coeneus, half crushed by his
savage enemies, are again represented. The casts of three metopes
(155-157) are from the north side of the temple of Theseus. Upon the
first the hero is represented destroying the King of Thebes, Creon;
upon the second he is throwing Cercyon, King of Eleusis; and upon the
third he is overcoming the Crommyonian sow. "About this time,"
Plutarch tells us, "Crommyon was infested with a wild sow named Phoeä,
a fierce and formidable creature. This savage he attacked and killed,
going out of his way to engage her, and thus displaying an act of
voluntary valour: for he believed it equally became a brave man to
stand upon his defence against abandoned ruffians, and to seek out and
begin the combat with strong and savage animals. But some say that
Phoeä was an abandoned female robber, who dwelt in Crommyon; that she
had the name of 'sow' from her life and manners, and was afterwards
slain by Theseus."

A series of bas-reliefs from an Ionic temple, dedicated to the
Wingless Victory of Athens, are the next objects that command the
general visitor's attention. They are numbered from 158 to 161
successively. Upon these are represented battles between the Greeks
and Persians; and maidens leading a sacrificial bull. The fragments
marked successively from 165 to 175 are remarkable for the Greek
inscriptions on them, which cannot interest the general visitor. Let
the visitor, therefore, next pause before the fragment of a frieze in
green stone, marked 177, which is from the tomb of Agamemnon at
Mycenae. The sculptured scroll-work is of very remote antiquity. The
next fragment is a bas-relief, on which a bearded man is represented,
pressing a child towards him, and directing its attention to a votive
foot which he holds in his hand. Passing from this, the visitor may
next direct his attention to the fragment of a colossal statue
numbered 178. It belongs to one of the pediments of the Parthenon.
Hereabouts are various sepulchral urns and columns of no particular
interest to the casual observer; - the circular altar from Delos,
ornamented in relief with sacrificial bulls and other subjects. 179
may, however, be noticed, together with the column marked 183, which
bears the name of Socrates, son of Socrates, a native of Ancyra, of
Galatia. The object marked 186 is a Greek sun-dial found at Athens, of
a time not long before the reign of the Emperor Severus. Passing other
altars and fragments of columns, the visitor should pause on his way,
to notice a bas-relief upon which Latona and Diana are sculptured,
forming part of a procession (190). The bas-relief numbered 193 is
from the theatre of Bacchus: it is a Bacchanalian group, in which
Bacchus is holding forth a vessel to be filled by an attending
Bacchante. The next object to be noticed is marked 194, and is a
fragment of a head of the goddess Pasht, surmounted with a crown of
serpents. A spirited scene occurs upon bas-relief 197, where a
charioteer, heralded by a flying Victory, is represented driving four
horses at full speed. A series of urns and votive altars are grouped
hereabouts, which the casual visitor may pass, pausing before the
small statue of Ganymede (207); a fragment of a boy supporting a bird
on his arm (221); a small figure of Telesphorus, headless, and draped;
more sepulchral urns and stêles; capitals of Corinthian and Ionic
columns; various inscriptions, including a decree of a society of
musicians (235); an amphora (238); a female head; a large and small
head of a bearded Hercules (243-242); heads and fragments of heads;
the base of a statue supposed to have been that of the Minerva of the
western pediment of the Parthenon; urns and columns, and stales and
inscriptions; a bas-relief showing Health, the daughter of
AEsculapius, feeding a serpent; two more bas-reliefs; an inventory of
the articles of gold and silver belonging to the Parthenon (282);
stêles, inscriptions, and columns; fragments of colossal statues, a
small statue (headless) of a Muse, 316; fragments of figures from the
metopes of the Parthenon; a sculptured oblong vessel, found near the
plain of Troy, for containing holy water (324); a mutilated colossal
head supposed to represent Nemesis, found in the temple of Nemesis, at
Rhamnus (325); a mutilated female statue found also at Rhamnus, in the
temple of Themis; fragments of colossal statues, stêles, inscriptions,
and altars. And hereabouts the visitor should pause once more to
examine a consecutive series of sculptures. These are marked from 352
to 360. They are casts from the monument of Lysicrates, erected to
celebrate a musical contest about three centuries and a half before
our era. This monument is commonly known as the


This name is derived from a story long current, that the monument was
built by Demosthenes as a place of retirement. It was in reality a
monument erected in honour of Lysicrates, and the musicians or actors
who carried off the palm in musical or dramatic entertainments. This
monument is interesting as being the oldest existing specimen of the
Corinthian order of architecture. The frieze, of which there are
specimens before the visitor, represents the story of the revenge
Bacchus indulged in towards some Tyrrhenian corsairs, who endeavoured
to convey him to Asia to sell him as a slave. It is related that
discovering their infamous project, he transformed the masts and oars
of the vessel into snakes. The frieze is divided into nine
compartments, and the central figure is Bacchus seated with his
panther before him, a vessel in his hand, and attendant fauns. The
fantastic punishment of the pirates is forcibly depicted. Here one
bound to a rock finds the cord changed into a powerful serpent; there
men leaping into the sea are already half changed to dolphins; and
others are receiving severe castigation. Having examined these curious
sculptures, the visitor may rapidly review the rest of the relics
which he will care to examine. Passing the inscriptions (all
interesting to the antiquarian), the votive altars, and other
fragments, he may halt here and there before various interesting
bas-reliefs. Among these are a bas-relief representing Vesta and
Minerva crowning a young man (375); a bas-relief of Jupiter and Juno;
a bas-relief representing a sacrifice before an altar (380); an
imperfect bas-relief representing three goddesses (383); a lion's head
from the roof of the Parthenon (393); a fragment from Mantell's
collection, of a female figure found on the plains of Marathon (397);
the upper part of a female figure, in bas-relief, from Athens (419);
two women and a child making offerings found in Laconia (430); another
bas-relief from Laconia (431); a curious subject in bas-relief from
Athens, representing the upper part of a youth holding something,
supposed to be a lantern, with a boy near him, and a cat on a column
(432); a cast from a tablet representing in bas-relief Pan seated on a
rock with a draped nymph, supposed to be Echo, before him (433); a
cast of the tablet of Euthydia, daughter of Diogenes, who is taking
leave of friends (435); and lastly, a bas-relief representing the
shape of a shield, on which the names of the _ephebi_ of Athens, under
Alcamenes, are inscribed. This is said to have belonged originally to
the Parthenon. And here the visitor will close his inspection of the
Elgin Saloon. That he will return to these fine relics of the old
Greeks, if he have the opportunity, is certain. He may come again and
again, and each time gain something in the contemplation of these
classical models; noble thoughts before the masterly figure of
Theseus, a keen sense of beauty near the beautiful forms of the
Parthenon frieze. Of all the glorious monuments of antiquity that have
reached us of the proud nineteenth century, none have so noble a
significance as the broken marbles collected in this room. The
contemplative man, seeing their perfect beauties, asks himself in
their presence many puzzling questions. But perhaps the first that
rises in the mind is wonder at the contrast between the development of
art and the poorness of science in this splendid antiquity. No steam
then to wield the hammer; only the most limited knowledge of the
earth: the west an indescribable region of harmony and glory; the
world a flat surface; fearful mariners hugging the shore close at
home, and trusting to the stars; and England a savage place where
wolves rent the air at night; and a heathen mythology the faith of the
most civilised people of the earth. Under these barbarous
circumstances, the poetry that dwells in the heart of all people who
cultivate some affinity to nature, fashioned the mould of a Phidias
for the people of Athens. A man with a stern soul, an eye large and
grand, a frame built to realise the soul's tasks - we see this Phidias
of the Greeks as he hovered about the foundations of the Parthenon,
when the name of Pericles was every Greek's watchword, four centuries
and a half before our Christian era. The man appears to have been of
colossal parts in every way. Versed in history, a poet given to study
fables (as all poets are), keen in sifting the subtleties of geometry,
a passionate reader of Homer; this was indeed the sculptor of the
gods! Of the high estimation in which the sculptures of the Parthenon
should be held, it is superfluous to say more than all writers on art
have agreed in saying. Here we have master-pieces, beyond which the
sculptors of the many ages that have passed away since Phidias
laboured at his Jupiter in the Olympian grove have never reached. High
praise this to say of a man who has been twenty-two centuries in his
grave, that he accomplished in the utmost perfection those ideals to
which his imitators have vainly aspired. It appears that Phidias had
his troubles, knew the force of a frown from men in power, and in
exile produced his master-piece. Whether he died in disgrace and by
foul means are points upon which the dust of ages has settled for
ever. We know thus much of him and no more. But the visitor who has
probably been more impressed with the contents of the Elgin Saloon
than with the massive coarseness of the Egyptian antiquities, will be
glad to hear a few general words - an authoritative summing up of the
matter from a pen more clearly authorised to touch the subject than
ours can be. A brief summary, a terse description, analytical and
picturesque, of a field of speculation or a region of wonder,
systematises the spectator's impression, and with the view of
fastening the proper contemplation of these master-pieces upon the
visitor's mind, we quote a few pointed sentences on the sculptures of
the Elgin Saloon, from the pen of Sir Henry Ellis.

"These marbles, chiefly ornamental, belong to one edifice dedicated to
the guardian deity of the city, raised at the time of the greatest
political power of the state, when all the arts which contribute to
humanise life were developing their beneficial influence. Many of the
writers of Athens, whose works are the daily textbooks of our schools,
saw in their original perfection the mutilated marbles which we still
cherish and admire. The Elgin collection has presented us with the
external and material forms, in which the art of Phidias gave life and
reality to the beautiful mythi which veiled the origin of his native
city, and perpetuated in groups of matchless simplicity the ceremonies
of the great national festival. The lover of beauty and the friend of
Grecian learning will here find a living comment on what he reads; and
as in the best and severest models of antiquity we always discover
something new to admire, so here we find fresh beauties at every
visit, and learn how infinite in variety are simplicity and truth, and
how every deviation from these principles produces sameness and
satiety. It is but just that those who feel the value of this
collection should pay a tribute of thanks to the nobleman to whose
exertions the nation is indebted for it; and the more so as he was
made the object of vulgar abuse by many pretended admirers of ancient
learning. If Lord Elgin had not removed these marbles, there is no
doubt that many of them would long since have been totally destroyed;
and it was only after great hesitation, and a certain knowledge that
they were daily suffering more and more from brutal ignorance and
barbarism, that he could prevail on himself to employ the power he had
obtained to remove them to England. These marbles may be considered in
two ways; first, as mere specimens of sculpture; and secondly, as
forming part of the history of a people. As specimens of sculpture
they serve as excellent studies to young artists, whose taste is
formed and chastened by the simplicity and truth of the models
presented to them. The advantage of studying the ancients in this
department of art rests pretty nearly on the same grounds as those
which may be given for our study of their written models. Modern times
produce excellence in every department of human industry, and our
knowledge of nature, the result of continued accumulations, needs not

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Online LibraryW. Blanchard JerroldHow to See the British Museum in Four Visits → online text (page 16 of 17)