The Greek Sculptures

The Greeks, with their exquisitely fine sense of aesthetic appreciation, their knowledge of perspective and movement and drapery, and their awareness of anatomy, brought the fine arts to a pitch that subsequent nations have copied but never surpassed. They excelled particularly in sculpture, and as several kinds of fine marble were abundant, they made great use of that medium; but they also used bronze to a considerable degree, although most of their larger pieces were melted down in later centuries because of their monetary value.

One of their most famous works, which stood in the Parthenon, was a colossal statue of the patron goddess of the city, Athene. This was 40 ft high, sculptured by the immortal Phidias, and entirely of gold and ivory. Outside the temple were two other colossal statues of Athene, both in bronze. One stood on the comer of the Acropolis and was visible far out to sea.

One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the celebrated Colossus at Rhodes, was the largest of many colossal statues of the Sun-god upon the island; it stood 105 ft high and consisted entirely of bronze. It was made by Chares of Lindus, one of the most famous bronze sculptors of antiquity, and took twelve years to manufacture and erect (292 to 280 B.C.). Pliny, who may have seen it, says that the fingers were larger than most statues and few people could embrace its thumb. It cost 300 talents and stood at the entrance to the harbour, but probably not across it as is commonly shown in pictures. After fifty-six years it was overthrown and broken to pieces by an earthquake; and there the remains lay for more than nine hundred years, until they were sold by one of the Arab Khalifs to a Jew of Emessa who carried them away on goo camels (A.D. 672). Hence Scaliger calculated the weight of the bronze as 700,000 lb. Considering the mechanical difficulties both of modelling and of casting so large a statue, the nicety required to fit together the separate pieces in which it must necessarily have been cast, and the skill needed to adjust its proportions according to the laws of optics and to adapt the whole style of the composition to its enormous size, we must assign to Chares a high position as an inventor in his art. (7)

Lysippus, the master of Chares, was still more famous. Beginning as an ordinary workman in bronze, he decided that his statues, in which he specialized, must be absolutely natural in attitude and expression. He made the enormous number of 1,500 statues, nearly all bronze; 'in consequence of which', wrote his biographer with bitter irony a hundred years ago, 'none of them remain', although many are known from coins.

7 SMITH, A.H. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1844), Vol. 1, pp. 683-4.