Drawings Bring Parthenon Sculptures to Life

Drawings Bring Parthenon Sculptures to Life

Standing as a silent, colonnaded sentinel over Athens, Greece, the Parthenon has been subject to nearly two-and-a-half millennia of war, religious zealotry, unscrupulous treasure hunting and the wear and tear of the industrial and natural elements.

These vagaries of earth and humanity have rendered Athena’s Temple on the Acropolis into one of the world’s most recognizable archaeological ruins. In recent years, the Greek government has taken pains to preserve what remains of the Parthenon, opening the Acropolis Museum in 2009 and partnering with scholars, artists and policymakers to ensure the site remains a viable historical and cultural monument for generations to come.

A trio of Creighton University faculty has been part of an international team undertaking a decade-long project to document and potentially reconstruct specific components of the Parthenon through a series of drawings. The faculty members are Erin Averett, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Fine and Performing Arts, Gregory Bucher, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies, and Jess Benjamin, director of the Lied Art Gallery.

The drawings, done by Katherine Schwab, Ph.D., professor of art history at Fairfield University, depict the Parthenon’s metopes, high-relief marble sculptures carved into the temple’s frieze, a decorative band running just under the building’s eave. A nationally touring exhibition of Schwab’s work is on display at Creighton’s Lied Art Gallery through March 29.

In the Parthenon’s 2,500-year history, most of the original 92 metopes (pronounced MET-oh-peez) have been defaced, destroyed or carried off, providing a significant challenge for Schwab, whose pencil and pastel artwork is effected via a process adapted in part from the Tibetan practice of thangka painting. The thangka technique respects a painstaking consideration of line and shading, especially helpful in translating sculpture to two-dimensional art. The metopes, Bucher said, are coming to life in Schwab’s work.

“Many of the metopes are badly broken,” he said. “It’s been extremely hard for art historians to work with them, to reconstruct them and preserve them. There have been line drawings done before, but there was always something missing. Photographs are good, but even they leave something out. Katherine Schwab has been trained to draw in this technique, very minutely observing these carved blocks and interpreting the logic of the silent stones.”

Photo top: The Parthenon in Athens, Greece
Photo bottom: One of Katherine Schwab’s drawings depicting one of the metopes that appear on the temple’s frieze.