Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.08.60

Ian Jenkins, Greek Architecture and its Sculpture.   Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 2007.  Pp. 271; ills. 250, map 1.  ISBN 10: 0-674-02388-9.  ISBN 13: 978-0-674-02388-8.  $35.00.  

Reviewed by Pamela A. Webb, Bryn Mawr College (
Word count: 2429 words

Ian Jenkins, Senior Curator of Greek collections in the British Museum, has written a very fine and extremely useful book on a subject that--even now--often receives less attention than it merits. Architectural sculpture is certainly included in surveys of Greek sculpture and in discussions of individual monuments, but it is rarely the primary focus of analysis, with a few major exceptions such as the Parthenon sculptures. While his title suggests that he is as interested in architecture as in sculpture, in fact the role of architecture here serves as a structural foundation for its figural adornment. This reasonably priced book is beautifully produced on heavy paper with numerous high quality photographs (most in color), line drawings, plans, and reconstructions. The writing style is clear and precise. Jenkins provides extensive endnotes and an excellent up-to-date bibliography; sources in English, German, and French are well represented, and many early excavation reports are cited. An elementary map depicts the major sites he discusses, although a good number of subsidiary sites mentioned in the text are omitted, along with the land masses of Magna Graecia and Egypt. Jenkins wrestles throughout, as many of us do, in choosing between Latinized names and Greek transliterations, with mixed results. I have followed his spellings here (e.g., Acropolis/Perikles).

Jenkins' approach regrettably is not comprehensive, for the book is "...primarily concerned with monuments in the British Museum, and is not therefore a history of Greek architecture and sculpture at large. Nor, however, is it a catalogue of one museum's collection." [p. 9] He begins with three preliminary chapters: Introduction; Enlightenment and Renaissance; and Greek Temples--Form and Meaning. The Introduction is a succinct and lucid explanation regarding the basis for the selection of the monuments in the book, which date to the sixth through the fourth centuries BC and are located in Athens, Arcadia, Ionia, Lycia, and Karia--two being among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Chapter One presents an overview of Greek and Persian history with an emphasis on Ionia, Karia, and Lycia. Chapter Two explores the origin of the Greek orders. The bulk of the book contains an examination of specific individual monuments. These eight chapters include the following, arranged, for the most part, in chronological order: the Temples of Artemis at Ephesos, the Parthenon, other fifth-century buildings of the Athenian Acropolis (the Propylaea, the Temple of Athena Nike, and the Erechtheum), the Temple of Apollo at Bassai, Lycian tombs, the Nereid Monument, the Mausoleum at Halikarnassos, and the Temple of Athena Polias at Priene. With the exception of the Propylaea, the list includes only temples and tombs/heroa. Omitted, except when cited as comparanda, are altars, civic and commercial buildings.

A benefit of restricting the monuments he analyzes to those represented in the British Museum allowed, one assumes, free or inexpensive use of pertinent photographs, which probably contributed greatly to the relatively low cost of this well-illustrated volume. The question arises, however, whether such parameters resulted in a range of structures sufficient to explain and illuminate the role of Greek architectural sculpture. Jenkins is able to achieve his goals, with a few exceptions. For example, he does not mention the figures of the central south metopes of the Parthenon. And the Pergamon Altar, which appears prominently in most discussions of Greek architectural sculpture--and which Jenkins describes as "...the greatest surviving Hellenistic work of art...." [p. 243]--is used only as a comparandum in the stylistic analysis of the Priene coffers because Jenkins does not include monuments from the later period.

Scholars at all levels, including those who focus primarily on Greek sculpture or architecture, will find much of interest here. The book will be especially useful for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as interested lay persons (especially those who have the opportunity to visit the British Museum) for Jenkins includes much basic information that is frequently omitted from publications aimed specifically at more advanced scholars. For example, when describing the Parthenon, he notes that one counts the corner columns of the peristyle twice to arrive at the formula "eight by seventeen." He also usually defines sculptural, architectural, and other terms within the paragraph where they are first encountered so that they are learned within a descriptive context. Unfortunately, he does not provide a glossary, which means that anyone who later in the text may have forgotten the meaning of a word cannot easily look it up. The three-inch margins do offer ample space in which a reader can make notes alongside pertinent text.

Jenkins' methodology provides exactly the right format by which to analyze architectural sculpture. "These monuments are explained as archaeological artefacts and are considered in the context of the places where they were built and, not least, the people who funded, designed, built, used, destroyed and discovered them." [p. 9] Therefore, at the beginning of the chapters dealing with individual monuments he provides, as suitable, a brief but comprehensive history of the site, its people and their politics; a description of the topography and the architecture on site; a history of the excavations; pertinent ancient sources; a recitation of the myths depicted; and detailed discussions of other types of evidence (e.g., epigraphy and numismatics). Throughout, Jenkins supplies the reader with an impressively wide range of data (e.g., an outline of the archaeological history of the Nike Temple: dismantled in the seventeenth century and rebuilt into a Turkish fortification on the Acropolis; reconstructed on its original base in 1835-36 after the Greek War of Independence; taken down and rebuilt twice again-- in 1935-40 and in 2002).

The preliminary chapters present information that is important to the context of the uses and meanings of figural ornamentation in Greek architecture. In describing the origins of the Greek orders, Jenkins analyzes their derivation not just from the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures, but from Egypt and the Near East as well, civilizations whose architectural history receives short shrift in many texts on Greek architecture. Also included is a fairly comprehensive overview of the still incompletely defined functions of the architect, the variety of materials used, the vital role of polychromy, the elements that are carved in the round and in relief, and the original context (sanctuary or necropolis) for which the architecture and sculpture were conceived. Jenkins states: "When we contemplate the meanings of architectural sculpture, therefore, the matter of ancient context concerns more than just the building, more even than the temenos in which it stood, but has ultimately to do with the identity, values and experience of the living people who once gathered as festival celebrant and competitors." [p. 46] And while this book is an examination of architectural sculpture, Jenkins completes the contextual picture with descriptions of several of the statues in the round of cult deities and the sculptured bases on which they stood within their temples.

A brief passage in Chapter Two, in which Jenkins discusses the content of the figural motifs adorning Greek architecture, seems to dismiss certain attempts to understand specific themes. He proposes that some iconography may have been chosen merely because it belonged to the stock-in-trade images of the masons. He states that because inscriptions don't suggest that common myths had deep meanings, we should not try to imbue them with such. And since Pausanias didn't mention the Parthenon frieze, Jenkins thinks it may not be important for would-be interpreters to hunt for supposed hidden messages. His comments leave the reader to wonder why cities and wealthy patrons would endure the costs in finances, labor, time, and materials necessary to produce complex figural architectural sculpture. Should not one consider that perhaps Pausanias often did not mention architectural sculpture because it did not always stimulate his interest or appeal to his taste? The conclusions drawn in the remainder of the book would seem to deny Jenkins' observations here, for his subsequent chapters "... suggest ways in which ... the sculptures of [temples and tombs] can be viewed as 'programmatic', each image contributing to a corporate, overall message." [p. 44]

Most surveys of Greek architecture or architectural sculpture begin with the Doric order and the Temple of Artemis at Corfu. Because of the restriction to artifacts in the British Museum, Jenkins begins with the Ionic order and the Archaic Temple of Artemis at Ephesos. This complex monument gives him opportunities to define a variety of archaeological problems and the evidence scholars use to solve them. (a) He begins with the measurements provided by Pliny, and the difficulties posed by the fact that the Greeks had no standard "foot" length at that time. (b) A large number of columns (127) is also cited by Pliny, with the result that there is more than one possible reconstruction and suggests the possibility of error in transcriptions of this ancient source. (c) The fact that two different sizes of Archaic simas are extant indicates that the temple must be reconstructed with a hipped roof enclosing a hypaethral opening [p. 59; figs. 42-43]. (d) The figural architectural sculpture was displayed on the exterior parapet sima and on column drums -- neither locus standard in Ionic buildings. (e) Jenkins' discussion of the Archaic temple leads into the reconstruction of the replacement Classical Artemision and the problems surrounding the location of its sculptured elements--column drums and pedestals [p. 62; figs. 46-47]. (f) Finally, he analyzes the problems arising from the fact that neither building displayed unified and well-defined sculptural themes.

Jenkins follows the same pattern in the succeeding seven chapters: a succinct but broad-ranging introduction, reconstruction of the architecture, description of the figural sculpture, analysis of the problems, and the evidence used to arrive at conclusions (where possible). When there is more than one hypothesis, Jenkins includes the various opinions--either in the text or in the endnotes. In some cases he states his own opinion; in others he leaves the question open.

The Parthenon, not surprisingly, receives the greatest amount of space, and Jenkins draws on the wide variety of scholarly publications available, including his own fine contributions to the subject. He devotes much attention to the complex and ambiguous frieze, stating that there is "plenty of scope for scholars to exercise their learning in finding ever new and ingenious interpretations of the scene". Here he supplies a reference to Joan Connelly who explains the central scene of the east frieze as depicting the daughters of Erechtheus. While Jenkins suggests that the theme of the frieze may be the Panathenaic procession or a generic festival, he seems in the end to support Connelly's hypothesis with the statement: "...(The frieze) moves between real life and legend in a pageant evocative of Athens' heroic past: chariots and their flowing-robed drivers had long been anachronisms, figures of romantic imagination rooted in the legendary age of heroes" [pp. 94-106, esp. 105-06; 252 n. 49].

The other monuments of the Acropolis provide the basis for a discussion of the Periklean building program, with a particularly detailed account of the Erechtheum. This is followed by Bassai, for which Jenkins (relying primarily on the work of Cooper and Madigan) presents the complete record of the four temples of Apollo. Thus, while focusing on the sculptured metopes and friezes of Apollo Temple IV, he also clarifies for the reader which of the several peculiarities of this building by Iktinos (an architect of the Parthenon) derive from its three Archaic predecessors.

The detailed history of Xanthos, its tombs and their multifarious figural motifs builds a sound foundation for the reader to attempt to understand the highly decorated but problematic Nereid Monument. The chapter on this well-preserved heroon is the least successful of the individual essays because Jenkins' detailed descriptions of the large number of sculptured elements and the variety of themes is hard to follow with the assistance of only a few illustrations. It is particularly difficult to evaluate his conclusions when, after he describes the many-figured Greater Podium Frieze, he states that it presents no specific story since he cannot identify it as portraying a particular theme [pp. 190-92]. Considering his access to the structure, which is fully preserved in the British Museum, the paucity of photographs is difficult to comprehend.

Discussion of the Mausoleum at Halikarnassos presents a good summary of the great amount of information available in ancient sources and modern publications. Especially helpful are the illustrations of the quite different reconstructions by Jeppesen, Waywell, and Hoepfner, along with an explanation that Waywell focuses on the sculpture, Hoepfner focuses on the architecture and on Pliny, while Jeppesen attempts to integrate all of the evidence [p. 214, figs. 205-208].

A date in the second half of the fourth century BC places the Temple of Athena at Priene in the final chapter. In a way, the book has come full circle by ending with an Ionic temple adorned with figured motifs that are placed in a relatively uncommon location -- the peristyle coffers. Jenkins points out that the emphasis of Pytheos, who served as architect at both Priene and Halikarnassos, "seems to have been on the architecture with no sculpture to distract from it" [p. 242]. In language that appears to diminish the importance of architectural sculpture, he describes Pytheos at Priene as being "...unburdened by the Mausoleum's plethora of figurative sculpture..." [pp. 248-49]. Jenkins includes a short section on votive statues found in the sanctuary (including figures of Roman date), space that would have been better devoted to the impressive Altar of Athena. The altar receives only a brief paragraph, possibly because he considers it to be wholly a product of the Hellenistic period. Jenkins discusses the possibility of the coffers and the statue of Athena having been designed and executed by Pytheos, then stored on site for almost two centuries before being installed in the temple. He does not, however, discuss the possibility that the altar with its large relief figures of Apollo and the Muses also may have been conceived by Pytheos, but not executed and erected until later, and that the heavily sculptured altar in close proximity to the temple could have influenced the temple's design with minimal figured ornamentation.

There is no concluding chapter. A summary analysis of the varied points Jenkins has described throughout the book, such as the loci of sculpture, the variety of themes depicted, chronological patterns, and specific influences from Athenian and Persian art would have been welcome. This is a small omission, however, compared to the rich amount of information he has compiled and presented in such a clearly organized and lucidly written manner. I highly recommend the addition of this book to the collections of all who are interested in the visual culture of the ancient Greeks.

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