Acropolis Maidens Glow Anew

Written on July 9, 2014 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Arts & Cultures & Societies

phoca_thumb_l_grecia1For 2,500 years, the six sisters stood unflinching atop the Acropolis, as the fires of war blazed around them, bullets nicked their robes, and bombs scarred their curvaceous bodies. When one of them was kidnapped in the 19th century, legend had it that the other five could be heard weeping in the night.

But only recently have the famed Caryatid statues, among the great divas of ancient Greece, had a chance to reveal their full glory.

For three and a half years, conservators at the Acropolis Museum have been cleaning the maidens, Ionic columns in female form believed to have been sculpted by Alkamenes, a student of ancient Greece’s greatest artist, Phidias. Their initial function was to prop up a part of the Erechtheion, the sacred temple near the Parthenon that paid homage to the first kings of Athens and the Greek gods Athena and Poseidon.

Today they are star attractions in the museum; the originals outside were replaced with reproductions in 1979 to keep the real maidens safe.

Over the centuries, a coat of black grime came to mask their beauty. Now conservators have restored them to their original ivory glow, using a specially developed laser technology.

To coincide with the museum’s fifth anniversary, the women — minus one — went on full display in June, gleaming from their modern makeover. The missing Caryatid is installed at the British Museum in London, which acquired it nearly a century ago after Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, had it sawed off the Erechtheion’s porch, along with shiploads of adornments from the Parthenon to decorate his mansion in Scotland before selling the pieces to pay debts.

Greek and British authorities have long fought over the return of these so-called Elgin marbles, a dispute that heated up again recently when the actors George Clooney, Matt Damon and Bill Murray came out in support of the sculptures’ being returned home during an appearance in London for the movie “The Monuments Men.” That ignited a firestorm in Britain, which maintains that Lord Elgin saved the marbles from destruction, and acquired them fairly.

“Someone needs to restore George Clooney’s marbles,” London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, retorted. The controversy may flare anew as the British Museum plans an exhibit of the human body in Greek sculpture for next spring, using some of the marbles from the Parthenon.

Greeks have not been shy about using the Caryatid restoration to help press their case. While the Caryatids’ restoration is not part of a specific campaign to get the marbles back, the fresh cleaning shows that the museum can support their return, said Dimitris Pantermalis, the president of the Acropolis Museum.

“We insist on a solution” to the Elgin marbles, Mr. Pantermalis said. “A country must be ready when it claims something, and the Acropolis Museum has completed this.”

In the meantime, the missing Caryatid is glaring in its absence from the platform, a subversive display of resistance that is reflected one floor up in the museum, where large swaths of the Acropolis frieze owned by the British Museum are represented as chalky plaster copies of the originals. On a recent weekday, Mr. Pantermalis wove through crowds who stood enthralled around a special dais on which the five remaining Caryatids were displayed. “With the pollution erased, we can read more about the history of the last 2,500 years,” he said.

Continue reading The New York Times


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