Statues, Reliefs and Color


Τ he ancient Greek temple was a dedication to the deity and its functionality was of limited interest. Because it was a dedication it had to be of perfect form and decorated with works of art. Thus, already from the Early Archaic period, the lavish external decoration of temples, which offered nothing to their function, was of great visual artistic interest.


I n Late Archaic and Classical times, temples were decorated with statues and reliefs, mainly in marble. The sculpted decoration was also a dedication to the god, and therefore perfect in form and workmanship, even in those parts that were practically hidden from view.

Τ he subjects of the compositions on the pediments and the reliefs of the friezes drew on myths associated with the gods honoured or on mythology in general. Struggles were frequently represented, such as the battle with Centaurs (Centauromachy), the battle with Amazons (Amazonomachy), armed figures in combat, as on the temples of Zeus at Olympia, of Aphaia on Aegina and the Archaic temples on the Acropolis. The metopes had comparable themes.


A t the angles of the pediments stood the acroteria, of geometric shapes on the early monuments, of vegetal forms later, free-standing statues during the Classical period. The acroteria of vegetal form were large composite palmettes at the apex and half-palmettes at the two side angles. The statues in the round were usually female, Nikai (Victories), Nymphs or Nereids, in various groups.The coffers of the marble ceilings also bore sculpted decoration of successive perimetric mouldings (cymatia) and with flowers or palmettes projecting in the recess, of bronze, as in the Erectheion, which have not survived, or of marble, as in the Tholos of the sanctuary of Asclepius at Epidaurus and in many later monuments.

The cymatia were linear, relief, usually horizontal elements whose purpose was to articulate the surfaces of the fronts. Three kinds are distinguished, on the basis of their decoration: Doric, Ionic and Lesbian. Antae capitals and epicranitis zones were also formed of cymatia, as for example on the Erechtheion.


C olour and painted decoration were part of the anceient architcture, completing the monuments visual effect. The present golden hue of the marble is due to age. During construction, the marble buildings should present a very different appeareance with the stones blinding white briliance. Of course this was true only during the building phase as afterwards the white surfaces were coating with colour. The precise allocations of colours is not known.

Nevertheless, it seems that the were using the following colours:
Bases, columns an architrave: white. Tainia: red with golden menandre. Regula: dark blue with golden anthemia. Mutule: blue. Triglyphs and background of metopes: alternate blue and red. Background of pendiments and frieze: blue. Cymatia, astragaloi, coffers, stabs, antefixes: combination of red, blue, yellow, green and gold. Sculputure: Colorfull with gilded bronze fittings.