A team of Emory professors, students and Michael C. Carlos Museum staff conducted an experiment to emulate the experience of visiting the Parthenon in Athens on the replica in Nashville, Tenn., on Saturday.
The experiment involved recreating “frieze” – a series of sculptured panels – that used to surround the Parthenon in Athens and raising them up onto the Parthenon replica.
The Parthenon, an iconic building in Athens, Greece, was formerly a temple. Scholars have been fascinated with the Parthenon for many years, College senior Rebecca Levitan said, because it was one of the first iconic pieces of Western architecture.
Most aspects of Western architecture derived some elements from the Parthenon because the building stood for the values of democracy and liberty. In addition, it displayed a complex architectural structure.
Located high above eye level in the dark and cramped corners behind the colonnade, or a long sequence of columns, the “frieze” has puzzled art history scholars for years, because the beautiful sculptures were tucked away into an “awkward” corner where it was unclear even as to whether or not visitors to the temple could see them, art history professor Bonna Wescoat said in a post for the Nashville Arts Magazine blog.
The team – including art history graduate students, visual arts students, art history students, staff from the Carlos Museum and Wescoat – planned to collect data about the locations where one could see the sculptures to infer what the sculptures could have represented or been used for.
Wescoat and her students started the project this semester to determine whether or not the Parthenon “frieze” could be seen by worshippers in and around the temple and whether the sculptures played any sort of role in the temple’s rituals, said Levitan, who contributed extensively to the project by researching the colors that would have been on the panels.
The sculptures show a parade in honor of Athena with men, horses and riders as part of procession and may have been intended to encourage worshippers to feel as though they were part of the procession, according to Levitan.
“I’ve always wondered how visible the frieze would be on the building, since it is partially blocked by the exterior colonnade,” said College sophomore Hannah Smagh, who contributed to the painting and mounting of the panels. “This experiment was a great chance to see what it would be like up on the building.”
The panels were removed from the Parthenon in Athens and are now in museums in Athens, London and Paris.
There, the sculptures upon them are perfectly visible but give little insight into the greater role the entire frieze, in its specific architectural position, played in the goings-on of the temple.
Students and staff from several departments at Emory, as well as architecture at Georgia Institute of Technology, worked together to recreate the frieze so that it would significantly resemble the original frieze in Athens.
The team had to conduct extensive research and planning as to the proportions, colors, size and design of the sculptures of the frieze.
“The project got people from all over the university and was a totally collaborative, multidisciplinary effort, involving departments such as sociology, visual arts, public health, theatre and elements of the museum,” Levitan said. “We really pulled in all resources Emory has.”
Hundreds of hours of work went into recreating the panels since they started at the beginning of the semester, she said.
“The process of making panels was extremely time-consuming and was far more than expected,” she said. “Finding the time to dedicate to panels was a challenge I didn’t anticipate.”
Once the panels were completed, the team used a crane to raise them onto the Nashville Parthenon replica and used Vanderbilt University students and Parthenon visitors to determine at which points to the temple could have seen the sculptures and for what the sculptures could have been used.
By using a traditional research approach involving standard sociology and art history research, the team hopes to determine a concrete answer as to the meaning of the sculptures.
Additionally, Levitan expressed excitement that the experiment forged further connections between the Nashville Parthenon and students at Vanderbilt and Emory.
“These sorts of networks really lead to greater fluidity of research and ideas,” she said.
Smagh agreed, saying that the Nashville Parthenon is considering placing their panels in the museum underneath the building with a video explanation of the project, which would educate the public about the monument as well as raise awareness as to Emory’s influence on the experiment.
– By Anusha Ravi