Monday, March 18, 2013

Visual experiment gives new view of Parthenon

Video by Hal Jacobs, Emory Quad Talk.

What’s it like to approach the Parthenon with its famous frieze in place, painted in the vivid colors of its original glory? And what’s it like to stand near the top of the Parthenon’s majestic columns and install canvas panels representing the frieze?

Watch the video above for on-the-scene footage of Emory’s Parthenon Project, a visual experiment that took place last fall at the Nashville Parthenon, a full-scale replica of the ancient temple in Athens, Greece, but without the frieze embellishment.

Visit Emory's Parthenon Project web site.

Emory art historian Bonna Wescoat and 11 of her students conducted the experiment to bring the science of seeing into a long-standing puzzle: Why was such a refined work of art placed in what seems like an obscure location?

The original carved marble panels, depicting a ceremonial procession, were located high on the outside wall of the Parthenon’s central chamber, and were partially blocked by the surrounding colonnade. The Emory students created facsimiles of some of the panels and installed them at the Nashville structure. They then recruited members of the public to slowly approach the building, and using a detailed questionnaire, describe what details they could see of the frieze, and how well they could see them.

“Of the 93 people who took the survey, the overwhelming majority said they could see the figures on the frieze and many of the details without difficulty,” Wescoat says.

The gods and heroes carved into the Parthenon’s pediments and metopes are more broadly visible in their prominent placements atop the columns, on the outermost rim of the temple. Viewers have to draw closer, however, to see the mortals depicted in the frieze’s procession.

“Many of the observers in the experiment thought [viewing the frieze] was a more intimate experience,” Wescoat says. “We can only imagine that for the ancient Athenians, it must have also been a deeply moving one to be in the company of ideal representations of themselves.”

The experiential data “offers a major step forward in our understanding of the visibility of the frieze,” she adds, “and it sheds light on why this particular position may have been chosen.”

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