Comparison of Severan copy of Athena Parthenos and 13th century
Virgin and Mary
The Severan copy of Athena Parthenos and an early 13th century Virgin child are two pieces at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts that compare and contrast in several ways. Their historical importance as symbols, their sculptural mediums, styles and dimensions, and their functions make them historically relevant.
The Reduced Replica of Athena Parthenos - at the MFA in Boston is a marble statue which depicts a graceful, robed female icon. The statue has lost both arms, and is dressed in a chiton Athena , also referred to as Minerva, the Maiden, or Parthenos was the Favorite daughter of Zeus. Legend states that she was not generated by any woman with Zeus, but instead leapt out of his head fully grown and armored. Athena is known an the goddess of wisdom, the goddess of the city , the protectress of civilized life, artisan activities , and agricultural bounty. All of these characteristics explain her sculptural likenesses in so many ancient cities in need of dietous protection. 1
This particular piece is of Severan creation. The Severans came to power in the late second century. Marcus Aurelius¹ son Commodus succeeded his father in 180, only to inherit an empire that was becoming increasingly harder to uphold , and imperial order was being threatened. Eventually, he was assassinated , and the Roman world was thrown into civil discord. Septimius Severus emerged as the new emperor in 193 after proclaiming himself to be Marcus Aurelius¹ son. 2
The Severan¹s hometown was called Lepcis Magna, on the coast of what is now Libya. In the early third century the port city used imperial funds to ornament itself with a new forum, basilica , arch, and several monuments and statues. One of these statues may be the Athena Parthenos . 3
Like other heroic statues of second and third century Rome, Athena
has a rigid , strong but graceful torso that can be seen in the later period of Soldier Emperors that would follow in coming decades. While examining Athena¹s garb- her birthday suit of armor and cloth - a parallel can be drawn to the battle gear seen in the Ludovisi battle sarcophagus and the Athena¹s chiton. In both of these , the garments¹ cloth hangs with a powerful rigidity that doesn¹t really cling to the body.
This gives a feeling of protective layering and puts limited focus on the anatomy of the covered torso and limbs.
The Virgin and Child is an oak sculpture of the sacred religious icons enthroned in a frontal pose. She is crowned and robed in lavish garments as the baby Jesus sits stiffly and astutely on her left thigh. A line on the baby¹s head suggests that he once wore a crown as his mother does. Also missing is the virgin¹s right hand. The two are rest on an oval throne that creates a trefoil shaped base beneath her feet. This image of the Virgin and Child upon the trefoil based throne is known a the Throne of Wisdom for the Incarnate World, or Sedes Sapientiae . 4
Sedes Sapientiae was considered to be particularly venerable and were adorned with gold foil and jewelry . However, by the twelfth century wooden sculptures such as this resided in many churches altars, and most were painted . However, the Virgin in Boston has to be considered a ³ Golden Virgin² because of her gilded robe and ³jeweled ³ crown which symbolize medieval influence translated through a more gothic style.5 The robe she wears is a full length coat gathered at the waist by a jeweled belt. Over this she wears a mantle , the opening bordered with fur and the hem is detailed with an embroidery-like pattern.
When studying the virgin from it¹s frontal view, the sculpture seems realistically three dimensional, however a profile view reveals that it is hardly more than a high relief. The flattened back, probably to rest against an altar , give the piece a shallow appearance from a profile...
Cited: George, Roy ³The Goddess Athena² , homepage, http://www.goddess-athena.org
Gillerman, Gothic Sculpture in American Collections. University Press, Ny 1978
Tansey, Kleiner. Gardner¹s Art Through the Ages , temth edition. New York : Hartcourt Brace College Publishers, 1996
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