Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema is one of my favourite Victorian painters. He was mainly a history painter, with so celebrated paintings of the Roman Empire. For me, he is the best painter of marble, he has an special touch when he represents this material. However, this post is dedicated to a previous age painting: the Athens of sculptor Phydias. This painting is dated in 1868, was made oil on wood and today is located in Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery.
The image drives us to Ancient Greece, concretely to Athens in 447 and 432 BC when the sculptor Phydias decorated the Parthenon and made the crysoelephantine statue of Athenea which haven’t survived today. We have a wrong idea about the Greek buildings and temples: today we can only see the white of the marble they were built but we have lost the original colors they were decorated. Alma-Tadema wanted to show this mistake to the Victorian society through this painting. Really, this painting in 19th century caused a long discussion in the intellectuals of that period. The current researchs affirm that Greek buildings and their reliefs and sculptures were painted.
In the image we can see Phydias in the center of the composition, in a scaffolding around the frieze of the Parthenon where his friends watch thoroughly the reliefs. Phydias doesn´t look to the frieze, he is looking back, reflecting, knowing his relief is a masterpiece. He is a mature man with a long grey beard and he has the plans of Parthenon in his hands. As we can see, the frieze is painted in colors, very different of the image we have of the Elgin marbles conserved today in British Museum.
The part of the frieze we can see doesn´t show the main part of it, where the Gods are represented, it´s focused to the part of the Panatheneas (holidays in honour to Athenea) where the knights drives their horses in the procession.
There is also another interesting point, the dresses of Phydias and his friends correspond exactly with the Greek dresses of that age. No doubt, Alma-Tadema did an accurate research about these wears. We can image perfectly how men and women participated of the social life of Ancient Greece. I like so much this painting because it tells accurately about a past age, the glorious period of Ancient Greece.