Who is Phidias, and what is his most signifcant contribution as an artist?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Phidias was a 5th century Greek painter, sculptor, and architect who became famous around 460 B.C. when he constructed a memorial to the Athenian victory at the Battle of Marathon. He is also renowned for his direction and supervision of the construction of the magnificent example of Greek architecture, the Parthenon, as well as the design of the Elgin Marbles, or structural embellishments of the pediment statues. Moreover, he is credited with the creation of the classical Greek style. Significantly, the mathematical golden ratio is symbolized by the Greek letter phi, the first three letters of Phidias's name. The golden ratio, or golden section, is a proportion between two parts of a line or two sides of a rectangle that the Greeks considered to be more pleasing than any other.

Phidias created a colossal statue of Athena, which became the prototype for all others. It stood 38 feet high with arms raised, holding a spear in her left hand and a Nike in her right. This statue was lost, but Roman descriptions of her describe Venus wearing a helmet and tunic

... covered by her characteristic snaked aegis, with an ornate shield and a serpent (representing Erichthonius) by her side. Her chiton (tunic) is fixed at the waist by two entwined serpents. In the middle of her helmet a sphinx is depicted, with a griffin shown in relief on either side. Her hair falls down in front of her breastplate, which bears a picture of Medusa's head in ivory.

The arms of Venus, referred to as Athena Parthenos, are also of ivory, and the drapery of her clothing of hammered gold. This employment of ivory and gold is called chryselephantine. 

Another sculpture that Phidias created is a gigantic Zeus sculpted around 435 B.C. This statue set at the temple in Olympia was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. All that remains of this statue are depictions on ancient coins; from them one can see Zeus seated on a throne that makes the statue extremely high [experts estimate 42 feet]; Zeus is bearded and wears a cloak that is covered with sculpted decorations. Although the sculpture has been lost, it is from the discovery of Phidias's workshop at Olympia that archaeologists have been able to determine the techniques and measurements used by Phidias.

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