Monuments in Watercolor EP # 04 Porch of The Maidens (at Erechtheion, Athens, Greece)
This week’s post features the 4th episode of our ‘Monuments in Watercolor’ series, which depicts the ‘porch of maiden’ — a fragment of the temple Erechtheion, located in the Athenian Acropolis, Greece. Dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon, Erechtheion is composed of several compartments and hence features a rather complex plan, and is praised as the zenith of ‘Ionic ordered’ Greek temples. Unfortunately, the bulk of the temple had been demolished due to bombardments in warfares.
For the painting I chose to focus on the ‘porch of maiden’ — a portico protruding from the northern side of the temple, featuring six marble columns, sculpted in the shape of females. These six sculptures epitomize the use of ‘caryatid,’ — the replacement of columns with sculpted human figures, a term coined by the Roman architect Vitruvius. Regarding the origin of the word, Vitruvius’ explanation is that the use of female shaped columns serves as a visual representation of the women from Karyæ, whose people betrayed their fellow Greeks during the Persian War.
Taken up in this ‘fetish’ of having slender females function as load-bearing pillars, the use of caryatids continued to prosper in subsequent architectural periods and got subsumed into the ensemble of the decorative styles of interior furniture such as hearths and chimneys.
When it comes to caryatids, many appreciate the use of slim female figures, as they ‘neutralize,’ or ‘dilute’ the sense of stern harshness, entailed in the purposes of the load-bearing columns, while some prefer muscular male figures, especially in the form of famous heroic characters such as Hercules or Atlas. What struck me the most about the ‘porch of maiden’ is that the designer decided to use carefully sculpted statues as columns in the first place: it’s like when you possess something in the excess you can afford to have it oozing everywhere. My first thought when I saw the ‘porch of maiden’ in person was that the ancient Greek got so much culture to squander, they even sculpted their columns. Given the craftsmanship demonstrated in the sculptures in the Acropolis temples, I can only imagine how majestic the giant statue of Zeus would have been.
Regarding the painting techniques, I have very little to say about this particular piece. Normally we’ve been painting large monumental architectures, so it’s a nice for a change to render things on a small scale. To toot my own horn, for the most part, I’d say this piece does an adequate job at (realistically) representing the sculptures. I identify the biggest challenge in this piece to be ‘how to depict the countenance, the draperies of the female figures.’ My answer to this challenge was to ‘draw’ with my brush: instead of ’washing’ large areas like I normally would, in this one I used the brush to ‘draw’ saturated pigments in places.
Like always, if I were to identify one weak spot in this piece to improve upon in the future, I would say it’s the lack of contrast. In the future, I will pay heed to the overall tonal value in the composition. Hope you have enjoyed this week’s post, see you next Friday in the fifth installment of our ‘Monuments in Watercolor’ series.