Phidias or Pheidias (in Ancient Greek, Φειδίας); circa 480 BC – 430 BC), was a Greek sculptor, painter and architect, who lived in the 5th century BC, and is commonly regarded as one of the greatest of all sculptors of Classical Greece: Phidias' Statue of Zeus at Olympia was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Phidias also designed the statues of the goddess Athena on the Athenian Acropolis, namely the Athena Parthenos inside the Parthenon and the Athena Promachos, a colossal bronze statue of Athena which stood between it and the Propylaea, a monumental gateway that served as the entrance to the Acropolis in Athens. Phidias was the son of a certain Charmides of Athens.
The ancients believed that his masters were Hegias and Hageladas.
Prior to the Peloponnesian war, Phidias was accused of embezzling gold intended for the statue of Athena inside the Parthenon. Pericles' enemies found a false witness against Phidias, named Menon. Phidias died in prison, although Pericles' companion, Aspasia, was acquitted of her own charges.
Although no original works in existence can be confidently attributed to him with certainty, numerous Roman copies in varying degrees of supposed fidelity are known to exist. This is not uncommon. Almost all classical Greek paintings and sculptures have been destroyed, and only Roman copies or notes of them exist, like the passages of Plato that ascribe Phidias' works to him. The ancient Romans frequently copied and further developed Greek art.
Ancient critics take a very high view of the merits of Phidias. What they especially praise is the ethos or permanent moral level of his works as compared with those of the later so called "pathetic" school. Demetrius calls his statues sublime, and at the same time precise.
Of his life we know little apart from his works. His first commission was a group of national heroes with Miltiades as a central figure.
The famous statesman Pericles also commissioned several sculptures for Athens from him in 447 BC, to celebrate Greek victory against the Persians at the Battle of Marathon during the Greco-Persian Wars (490 BC). Pericles used some of the money from the maritime League of Delos, to rebuild and decorate Athens to celebrate this victory.
In 1958 archaeologists found the workshop at Olympia where Phidias assembled the gold and ivory Zeus. There were still some shards of ivory at the site, moulds and other casting equipment, and a black glaze drinking cup engraved "I belong to Phidias".
The Golden Ratio has been represented by the Greek letter \varphi (phi), after Phidias, who is said to have employed it. The Golden Ratio is an irrational number approximating 1.6180 which when studied has special mathematical properties. The golden spiral is also said to hold aesthetic values.
The earliest of the works of Phidias were dedications in memory of Marathon, celebrating the Greek victory. At Delphi he erected a great group in bronze including the figures of Greek gods Apollo and Athena, several Attic heroes, and General Miltiades the Younger. On the Acropolis of Athens Pheidias set up a colossal bronze statue of Athena, the Athena Promachos, which was visible far out at sea. Athena was the goddess of wisdom and warriors and the protectress of Athens. At Pellene in Achaea, and at Plataea Pheidias made two other statues of Athena, as well as a statue of the goddess Aphrodite in ivory and gold for the people of Elis.
Zeus at Olympia and the Athena Parthenos
Among the ancient Greeks themselves two works of Phidias far outshone all others, the colossal chryselephantine figures in gold and ivory of Zeus circa 432 BC on the site where it was erected in the temple of Zeus, at Olympia, Greece, and of Athena Parthenos (literally, "Athena the Virgin") a sculpture of the Greek virgin goddess Athena named after an epithet for the goddess herself, and was housed in the Parthenon in Athens. Both sculpture belong to about the middle of the 5th century BC. A number of replicas and works inspired by it, both ancient and modern, have been made. From the 5th century BC, the copies of the statue of Zeus found were small copies on coins of Elis, which give us but a general notion of the pose, and the character of the head. The god was seated on a throne, every part of which was used as a ground for sculptural decoration. His body was of ivory, his robe of gold. His head was of somewhat archaic type: the Otricoli mask which used to be regarded as a copy of the head of the Olympian statue is certainly more than a century later in style. Of the Athena Parthenos two small copies in marble have been found at Athens which possess a certain evidential value as to the treatment of their original.
Materials and theories
In antiquity Phidias was celebrated for his statues in bronze, and his chryselephantine works (statues made of gold and ivory). In the Hippias Major, Plato claims that Phidias seldom, if ever, have executed works in marble, though many of the sculptures of his times were executed in marble. Plutarch tells us that he superintended the great works of Pericles on the Acropolis. Inscriptions prove that the marble blocks intended for the pedimental statues of the Parthenon were not brought to Athens until 434 BC, which was probably after the death of Phidias. It is therefore possible that most sculptural decoration of the Parthenon was the work of Phidias' atelier but supposedly made by pupils of Phidias, such as Alcamenes and Agoracritus. Our actual knowledge of the works of Phidias is very small. There are many stately figures in the Roman and other museums which clearly belong to the same school as the Parthenos. These are copies of the Roman age.
According to geographer Pausanias (1.28.2), the original bronze Lemnian Athena was created by Phidias circa 450-440 BCE, for Athenians living on Lemnos. Adolf Furtwängler proposed to find, in a statue of which the head is at Bologna, and of which the body is at Dresden, a copy of the Lemnian Athena of Phidias. Some 5th century torsos of Athena found at Athens. The torso of Athena in the École des Beaux-Arts at Paris, which has unfortunately lost its head, may perhaps best serve to help our imagination in reconstructing the original statue.
（Φειδίας). The greatest sculptor and statuary of Greece. Of his personal history we possess but few details. He was a native of Athens, was the son of Charmides, and was born about the time of the battle of Marathon, B.C. 490. He began to work as a statuary about 464, and one of his first great works was the statue of Athené Promachos, which may be assigned to about 460. This work must have established his reputation; but it was surpassed by the splendid productions of his own hand, and of others working under his direction, during the administration of Pericles. That statesman not only chose Phidias to execute the principal statues which were to be set up, but gave him the oversight of all the works of art which were to be erected.
Of these works the chief were the Propylaea (q. v.) of the Acropolis, and, above all, the temple of Athené on the Acropolis, called the Parthenon, on which, as the central point of the Athenian polity and religion, the highest efforts of the best of artists were employed. There can be no doubt that the sculptured ornaments of this temple, the remains of which form one of the glories of the British Museum (see Elgin Marbles), were executed under the immediate superintendence of Phidias; but the colossal statue of the divinity made of ivory and gold, which was enclosed within that magnificent shrine, was the work of the artist's own hand. The statue was dedicated in 438. Having finished his great work at Athens, he went to Elis and Olympia, which he was now invited to adorn. He was there engaged for about four or five years from 437 to 434 or 433, during which time he finished his statue of the Olympian Zeus, the greatest of all his works.
On his return to Athens he fell a victim to the jealousy against his great patron, Pericles, which was then at its height. The party opposed to Pericles, thinking him too powerful to be overthrown by a direct attack, aimed at him in the persons of his most cherished friends-Phidias, Anaxagoras, and Aspasia. (See Pericles.) Phidias was first accused of peculation; but this charge was at once refuted, as, by the advice of Pericles, the gold had been affixed to the statue of Athené in such a manner that it could be removed and the weight of it examined. The accusers then charged Phidias with impiety, in having introduced into the battle of the Amazons, on the shield of the goddess, his own likeness and that of Pericles. On this latter charge Phidias was thrown into prison, where he died from disease, in 432.
Of the numerous works executed by Phidias for the Athenians the most celebrated was the statue of Athené in the Parthenon, to which reference has already been made. This statue was of that kind of work which the Greeks called "chryselephantine"- that is, the statue was formed of plates of ivory laid upon a core of wood or stone for the flesh parts, while the drapery and other ornaments were of solid gold. The statue stood in the foremost and larger chamber of the temple (πρόδρομος). It represented the goddess standing, clothed with a tunic reaching to the ankles, with her spear in her left hand and an image of Victory four cubits high in her right: she was girded with the aegis, and had a helmet on her head, and her shield rested on the ground by her side. The height of the statue was twenty-six cubits, or nearly forty feet, including the base. The eyes were of a kind of marble, nearly resembling ivory, perhaps painted to imitate the iris and pupil; there is no sufficient authority for the statement, which is frequently made, that they were of precious stones. The weight of the gold upon the statue, which, as above stated, was removable at pleasure, is said by Thucydides to have been forty talents, or about $470,000 (ii. 13).
Still more celebrated than his statue of Athené was the colossal ivory and gold statue of Zeus, which Phidias made for the great temple of this god, in the Altis or sacred grove at Olympia. (See Olympia.) This statue was regarded as the masterpiece not only of Phidias, but of the whole range of Grecian art, and was looked upon not so much as a statue, but rather as if it were the actual manifestation of the present deity. It was placed in the πρόδρομος, or front chamber, of the temple directly facing the entrance. It was only visible, however, on great festivals; at other times it was concealed by a magnificent curtain. The god was represented as seated on a throne of cedarwood, adorned with gold, ivory, ebony, stones, and colours, crowned with a wreath of olive, holding in his right hand an ivory and gold statue of Victory, and in his left hand supporting a sceptre, which was ornamented with all sorts of metals, and surmounted by an eagle. The throne was brilliant both with gold and stones and with ebony and ivory, and was ornamented with figures both painted and sculptured. The statue almost reached to the roof, which was about sixty feet in height. The idea which Phidias essayed to embody in this, his greatest work, was that of the supreme deity of the Hellenic nation no longer engaged in conflicts with the Titans and the Giants, but having laid aside his thunderbolt, and enthroned as a conqueror, in perfect majesty and repose, ruling with a nod the subject world. It is related that when Phidias was asked what model he meant to follow in making his statue, he replied that of Homer ( Il. i. 528-530). This passage has been imitated by Milton, whose paraphrase gives no small aid to the comprehension of the idea (Paradise Lost, iii. 135-137):
"Thus while God spake, ambrosial fragrance fill'd
All heaven, and in the blessed spirits elect
Sense of new joy ineffable diffused."
The statue was removed by the emperor Theodosius I. to Constantinople, where it was destroyed by a fire in A.D. 475. In 1888 a red vase was exhumed at Tanagra, bearing a signature which archæologists believe to be that of Phidias.
The distinguishing character of the art of Phidias was ideal sublimity, especially in the representation of divinities and of subjects connected with their worship. While on the one hand he freed himself from the stiff and unnatural forms which, by a sort of religious precedent, had fettered his predecessors of the archaic or hieratic school, he never, on the other hand, descended to the exact imitation of any human model, however beautiful; he never represented that distorted action, or expressed that vehement passion, which lie beyond the limits of repose; nor did he ever approach to that almost meretricious grace, by which some of his greatest followers, if they did not corrupt the art themselves, gave the occasion for its corruption in the hands of their less gifted and spiritual imitators. See Murray, Greek Sculpture (London, 1880); Waldstein, The Art of Pheidias (Cambridge, 1885); Collignon, Phidias (Paris, 1886); and the article Statuaria Ars.