CitySketch – Elgin Marbles

“The Parthenon without the marbles is like a smile with a tooth missing”
Neil Kinnock

Phidias’ Zeus

Phidias was a Greek sculptor, painter, and architect whose statue of Zeus at Olympia was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. This wonder was destroyed during the 5th century AD with details of its form known only from ancient Greek descriptions and representations on coins. He and his team also designed and sculpted the frieze of the Parthenon in Athens, which became known as the Elgin Marbles.

Tommy, to his friends

Why Elgin?  Because in 1801, Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elginobtained a permit from the government of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Greece at the time, and he claimed it allowed him access to the Parthenon site. Over the next decade, Elgin’s men removed about half of the area’s surviving sculptures. On his return to England with a boatload of marble his ship went down and it took divers three years to recover all the pieces, which Elgin used to decorate his Scottish mansion.

In 1852, casts of the Elgin Marbles were made and given as a gift to the City College of New York where they served as educational tools for the art and history departments. By 1992 they were becoming an expensive tool to maintain and they were scheduled to be destroyed. The Onassis Foundation USA provided the necessary funds to restore and maintain the sculptures. They are currently on display in the CCNY Graduate Center library on the corner of 34th Street and 5th Avenue, where I made two quick sketches of this horse’s head.

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