Phidias (c. 450-30 BCE) | Design
This bronze statue of the goddess Athena created by Phidias was one of the numerous statues which stood on the Acropolis in Athens and from which casts were taken during the Roman imperial period. In this case, Athena holds her helmet in her hand, enabling the viewer to fully appreciate the beauty of her face. Pausanias saw the statue in the year 160 CE and reported that it was called “Athena Lemnia, after those who dedicated it”.
The Athena Lemnia statue is among the three best-known works by Phidias. His most famous may well be the colossal statue of Athena Parthenos which, just like the Athena Lemnia, was also set up at the Acropolis in Athens. And Phidias’s 12-metre-high statue of Zeus at Olympia was even numbered among the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Although only fragments of works by Phidias have survived, his fame has endured down the centuries. This is not only due to the many reproductions of his statues, but also to a few surviving accounts in texts by classical authors. These include descriptions of his works, sometimes where one would least expect it. For example, one of the key sources of information about Phidias’s sculptures and art history in antiquity in general is a book on natural history by Pliny the Elder.
In his chapter on the metals copper, iron and lead, Pliny mentions the most important works by Phidias:
“Phidias, besides the Olympian Zeus, which no one has ever equalled, also executed in ivory the erect statue of Athena which is in the Parthenon at Athens. He also made in brass, besides the Amazon above mentioned, an Athena of such exquisite beauty that it received its name from its fine proportions.” [
That latter statue was the Athena Lemnia. But was this Athena really depicted without a helmet as here? Many scholars thinks so, but some argue Athena was actually holding a sacrificial bowl or had an owl perched on her hand – irrespective of whether she had her helmet on her head or not.
- Material & Technique
- Parian marble
- 2nd quarter of the 1st century CE
- Inventory number
- Hm 049