The Joy of Museums

Finding Beauty & Meaning in Museums

Artemision Bronze

0038MAN Poseidon---Zeus

The Artemision Bronze represents either Zeus (king of the gods of Mount Olympus) or possibly Poseidon (God of the Sea). It is a rare ancient Greek bronze sculpture that was recovered from the sea off Cape Artemision, Greece. Created in the early “Classical Period of Greek sculpture”, about 460 BC, this masterpiece is the embodiment of beauty, control, and strength.

Shown in full heroic nudity with his left arm and foot thrust dynamically forward in the direction of his foes, while his right leg and arm are raised and slightly bent, representing movement. Most of his weight shifted to left foot while the other lightly touches the ground. The figure appears to be paused ready for action. The head is sculptured in great detail with his hair and beard intricately carved. His eyebrows were originally made of silver, his lips of copper, and his eyes of some other material, which are now completely missing.

The right hand originally held either a thunderbolt if it represented Zeus or a trident if it represented Poseidon. Because of its majesty and similarity to other statues of Zeus, it is generally assumed to represent the mightiest of the Olympian gods, Zeus.

Zeus lightning Glyptothek Munich 4339

Zeus hurling lightning- a smaller and older bronze statuette from the Glyptothek Museum in Munich

The “Artemision Bronze” sculpture was found in two pieces at the bottom of the sea. It was presumably part of a sunken Roman ship’s cargo, as many Greek masterpieces were repatriated to Rome as the thirst for Greek Art consumed the Romans in 1st and 2nd centuries BC. Many such shipwrecks are of Roman date and were of vessels looting Greek art. The statue was found in 1926 and then excavated in 1928. Greek fishermen first discovered the left arm in their nets. The rest of the statue was recovered in 1928. It was made in the lost-wax method of bronze casting, with each section cast separately and then welded together.

Artemision Zeus or Poseidon, c. 460 BC, Archaeological Museum of Athens (14078492391)

Most ancient Greek bronzes were melted down for their raw materials as the fortunes of Ancient Greece and Rome demanded, fortunately this Artemision Bronze was saved from destruction when it was lost in a shipwreck in antiquity and discovered in an age when ancient treasures were worth more than the value of the bronze or gold raw material, with which they were constructed.

The Greek word agalma (αγαλμα) means “object of worship” and is derived from the word for “delight”. This sculpture was created for the delight of not only the Greek, but also their gods. This statue was probably created as an offering or votive for a temple dedicated to Zeus. In dedicating such works of art as offerings, the Greeks attempted to appease their gods and earn divine favour.

Zeus Louvre G204

Zeus wielding the thunderbolt in his right hand and holding an eagle on the other hand. Details from an Attic red-figure amphora dated 480 BC from the Louvre Museum

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

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Essential Facts:

  • Title:                     Artemision Bronze
  • Date:                     460 BC
  • Material:             Bronze
  • Dimensions:      H: 209cm
  • Museums:           National Archaeological Museum, Athens

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“Let him that would move the world first move himself.” Socrates

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Photo Credit: 1) By Ricardo André Frantz (User:Tetraktys) (taken by Ricardo André Frantz) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 3) Berlin Painter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 4) See page for author [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons