Phidias is considered the greatest sculptor of Classical Greece, despite the fact that we have very little information about his life, and the truth is that his most important works have not survived to this day either. However, the remains of his works that we can observe today in the 21st century can give us an idea of the enormous artistic capacity of this character.
Recreation of Phidias' Pallas Athena
To try to understand him, you have to place him in the historical context in which he developed his artistic production. And this was precisely during the fifth century BC, at the time when Athenian democracy reached its maximum splendor. In those years, Athens was ruled by Pericles, who after the destruction that the Persian invasion had caused in the city, undertook around the year 480 a. C. the reconstruction of it. Specifically, the temples that had dominated the Acropolis had been destroyed, and Pericles decided to rebuild them, although now building them in marble, to endow them with a nobility hitherto unknown to the Athenians.
He distributed the commissions for this reconstruction among the most renowned artists of the time, and one of them was Phidias, to whom he commissioned the sculptural works.
For temples like the Parthenon, Phidias built a magnificent sculpture ofPallas Athena, of which we do not have any copies, nor of course the original, however we do have the effusive descriptions of his time. According to these texts it was a wooden sculpture 12 meters high, which was completely covered with precious materials, and mainly gold was used for the armor of the goddess it represented, and her skin was ivory covered. According to these descriptions it was a portentous sculpture, beautiful and frightening at the same time. But above all, the written testimonies of his time that have come down to us speak of the fascination he provoked and the beautiful humanity he transmitted.
This was not the only sculpture of such dimensions and such rich materials that Phidias made, since he also made a work of similar characteristics representing the godOlympian Zeus. Both his Pallas Athena and the Olympian Zeus made him the most prestigious sculptor of the 5th century BC in Athens, and of course given the number of commissions he received as well as the large volume of work necessary to carry it out, Phidias had a highly staffed workshop of assistants, without whom it would have been impossible for him to carry out such work.
Another of those huge volume commissions was the sculptural decoration of the Parthenon, part of which has survived to this day, both in terms of the round sculptures that were placed on both pediments of the temple, like the reliefs that ran through the entire frieze under thecover.
Specifically, 92 metopes were located on the frieze representing mythological scenes of the fight between giants and centaurs, a cycle of sculptures whose objective was to capture the superiority of Greek civilization, specifically the Athenian against the rest of the peoples considered barbarians. And it is that we must not forget that Phidias was a great artist, but that his work was commissioned by the rulers and therefore always had a propaganda message.