Greek Horses

Until the Renaissance sculptors didn’t try to put backgrounds into their reliefs the way painters do. The simple perspective trick of making the more distant figures smaller than the up-front ones doesn’t work in a relief—that is, the viewer  isn’t fooled into thinking that one of the  figures  is farther off: he merely sees one big figure and one baby figure up in the air above it.

The great reliefs on the frieze of the Parthenon, carved by Phidias in about 450 BC, are just front-line figures on a marble slab. The empty area all around them is supposed to be—the eye allows it—air, just air. There is no attempt at scenery or depth, except what you can easily achieve by setting two or more figures side-by-side, like these horses and their riders.

Parthenon frieze

From the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

This entry was posted in art, art history, great artists, Greek sculpture, sculpture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Greek Horses

  1. cantueso says:

    See? It works.

    Above you say: “the viewer’s eye isn’t fooled into thinking that one figure is smaller because it is farther off.”

    It should be: the viewer’s eye is not fooled into thinking that one of the figures is farther off.

    (If the viewer perceived one of the figures as smaller, he would not be fooled….. ¿sabes?)

    And since you can easily delete this comment in case you find there is too much criticism, I may add that, instead of the viewer’s eye, you might simply say: the viewer.

    This must be one of your funnier technicisms. Imagine me going to a gallery and saying: “my eye got upset by what it saw, and my eye did not know what to do except guide me to the exit of the gallery.”

    By the way, in above comment, please correct “yo type”. It is “to type”.

  2. 100swallows says:

    You are right, Cantueso. I will correct this. And I will not delete you. Thanks.

Leave a Reply