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The Chryselephantine Doors of the Parthenon

The Chryselephantine Doors of the Parthenon

This article proposes a speculative solution to a problem recently discovered in the Parthenon building-account inscriptions. As restored, the accounts (IG 1³ 449, lines 389–94) specify the purchase and sale of a large lot of ivory quite late in the building’s construction. Where was this ivory used? Since the ivory cannot readily be connected to Pheidias’ chryselephantine image of Athena, this material can be associated with the decoration of the Parthenon’s enormous cedar doors. In addition to a range of epigraphical and structural evidence supporting this hypothesis, the literary and archaeological data suggest a long tradition of adorning doors with gold and ivory in Greek sacred architecture. The Parthenon was a fundamental part of this tradition. Indeed, by creating a gold and ivory frame to complement and emphasize Pheidias’ gleaming statue, the Parthenon’s designers played on ancient expectations regarding divine images and enhanced the epiphanic effect of Pheidias’ masterpiece and the Parthenon as a whole.

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The Chryselephantine Doors of the Parthenon

By Spencer Pope and Peter Schultz

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 1 (January 2014), pp. 19–31

DOI: 10.3764/aja.118.1.0019

© 2014 Archaeological Institute of America