The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in Art & History

Caryatids of Erechtheum

The Porch of the Caryatids, The Erechtheion, Acropolis of Athens (13889671980)

A Caryatid is the name given to a column which is in the form of a standing female figure. The most famous Caryatid is part of the Erechtheion on the acropolis of Athens. The Erechtheion is a marble temple building in the Ionic order and was considered the most sacred part of the Acropolis.

At the south porch of the Erechtheion the roof was supported by six statues of maidens known as the Caryatids. An ancient inscription of the Erechtheion refers to the Caryatids simply as Korai (maidens). The Greek term karyatides literally means “maidens of Karyai”, an ancient town of Peloponnese.

Caryatids on the south porch of the Erechtheion

Originally there were six maiden statues. Today at the site you can only see five as one of the Caryatids was removed by Lord Elgin in 1801 and is today located in the British Museum. The Caryatids that you see at the Erechtheum on the Acropolis of Athens are copies, as the five remaining originals are in the The Acropolis Museum for their protection, conservation and restoration.

The Caryatids of Erechtheum where sculptured from Pentelic marble. They wear a peplos pinned on each shoulder. The hair of the Korai (maidens) is braided and falls in as a thick rope down her back. They carries the architectural capital like a basket on her head. The weight she bears is taken on the right leg and the other leg is bent forward with the drapery moulded to it.

Caryatids from the Erechtheion on the Acropolis, Acropolis Museum, Athens (13889706087)

Below is a painting titled “The Prostasis (portico) of the Caryatids on the Erechtheion” painted in 1877 by Werner Carl-Friedrich (1808 – 1894).  This was painted after the liberation of Greece from the Ottoman Empire, when one of the first tasks the new Greek State undertook was to clear the Turkish dwellings from the Acropolis hill and reveal the classical monuments of antiquity. This is a view of the Caryatids of Erechtheum following the restoration of the site without modern additions.

Werner Carl-Friedrich - The Prostasis (portico) of the Caryatids on the Erechtheion - Google Art Project

Today the original Caryatids of Erechtheum are not at the Temple on the Acropolis, they are in The Acropolis Museum for their protection, conservation and restoration. Below is a video the conservation that was undertaken using an innovative laser technique especially developed for this resoration project.

Other Ancient Greek masterpieces featured in “Joy of Museums”include:

Essential Facts:

  • Sculptured:                 420–415 BCE
  • Original Location:     Acropolis of Athens
  • Museums:                    The Acropolis Museum

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“If women didn’t exist, all the money in the world would have no meaning.” Aristotle Onassis

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Photo Credit: By Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada (Greece-0121 – The Caryatids Uploaded by PDTillman) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 3) By Werner Carl-Friedrich (1808 – 1894) Details of artist on Google Art Project [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 4) By Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons