Athena Guistiniani, Late fifth - early fourth century BCE, Vatican Museums, Parian Marble.
The goddess Athena has one of the most complex natures in Greek mythology. She is known for being the most masculine goddess, yet as a virgin, she also depicts some of the most feminine traits at the same time. The Athena Guistiniani is a perfect depiction of this paradoxical existence of Athena.
We’ll begin with a brief look at the statue’s history. The Athena Guistiniani is a Roman copy of the Pallas Athena, which was a statue created by the Greeks after they defeated the Persians in 479 BC (Morford et al. 182). Because the Pallas Athena was created to thank the goddess for her blessings in helping the Greeks win the war, it is logical that this statue left out Athena’s non-war related attributes—notably things that reflect her title as the goddess of weaving, wisdom, and art. The knowledge of the historical events that took place during the creation of the original piece this statue is based off of is important in understanding why the creator included or excluded certain attributes of Athena. It also allows the audience to better understand the paradox that is presented when analyzing the attributes that were chosen to be included.
Taking a step back from the historical aspect of the statue, let’s now discuss the details present in the Athena Guistiniani.
In this statue, Athena is seen holding her trusty spear, while wearing a war helmet and her aegis (which is depicted as a goatskin, as opposed to a shield). These attributes reflect a scene in Athena’s birth myth, where she sprung out of Zeus’ head “in a full battle dress” (Morford et al. 177). Having Athena hold weapons already highlights her masculinity and sets her apart from normal females. Adding in the weight of the myth, having Zeus as Athena’s sole parent emphasizes her masculinity—she has no mother, hence she’s born from a man and acts like a man. But this is where the depiction of Athena’s masculine side ends.
In the statue, Athena is dressed in a very lady-like style. Whereas men of war wear many pieces of armor, Athena is depicted as only wearing a robed dress. Wearing feminine clothing in the middle of war highlights Athena’s femininity and widens that difference between Athena and other men. Furthermore, very noticeably at the bottom of the statue lays a coiled snake. The snake is another one of Athena’s symbols, but it is interesting to note what it symbolizes. According to early historians, the association of a snake “suggests that perhaps Athena originally was…a fertility goddess, even though her character as a virgin dominates later tradition” (Morford et al. 187). Athena’s virginity reflects a virtue in Greek culture: women are celebrated for being pure virgins. At the same time, however, women are also praised for being very fertile, and the inclusion of a snake highlights this fact.
Having this statue depict both Athena’s masculine and feminine features—seen by her war ready weapons and her feminine pet and dress—perfectly summarizes Athena’s complex nature in Greek culture and mythology. Although she’s female in every aspect, she’s also male in the way she acts and her birth myth. Knowing this, it is important to remember that the Greeks celebrated both Athena’s masculine and feminine sides, which can be seen in the Athena Guistiniani.
Athena Giustiniani is believed to be created between late fifth to early fourth century BCE as a marble copy of a Greek sculpture. The statue was once in the collection of Vincenzo Giustiniani, a famous collector in the late 16th to early 17th century, thus receiving its name (Giustiniani Minerva). By closely examining Athena Giustiniani, I found it to be a good but not perfect depiction of Athena as she appears in the material we learned in class.
Athena, unlike most goddesses in Greek mythology, is not associated with sexuality and fertility. Rather, she is masculine and a virgin. Athena is the goddess of discipline and tactics warfare and is connected to shipbuilding and sometimes metal working. All of which are perceived as men’s work in ancient Greek. The fact that Zeus is her only parent makes her associate even more with masculine. Yet Athena sometimes shares some feminine characteristics. First, she was born as a female. Second, Athena is also the goddess of weaving, and we sometimes will see an image of Athena holding a distaff.
Athena Giustiniani has demonstrated the masculine of Athena very well. In the statue, Athena looks tall and strong. She holds a spear and wears a helmet and her father’s aegis (with Medusa’s head on it). All of these characteristics resemble a warrior. However, compared to some other sculptures of Athena, Athena Giustiniani failed to show the feminine aspect of her. For example, in Mattei Athena, another marble sculpture of Athena, although she also wears the helmet and looks strong, she doesn't hold any weapon nor wears aegis. The piece of clothes on her looks more loose and more like a girl’s dress, and she also has bigger breasts and more gentle eyes. Unlike Athena Giustiniani which one may not be able to tell whether it is a man or woman depicted in the sculpture without knowing the sex of Athena, Mattei Athena shows the feminine aspect of Athena very well.
My favorite part about Athena Giustiniani is the facial expression of Athena. It gives me a feeling of determination and seriousness, and the willingness to protect something important. It seems to me that she is watching over something that she cares about. In Greek mythology, Athena is also connected to protection. For example, she often guides and protects other heroes, and she is viewed as the protector of the city-state in ancient Greek, especially Athens. Athena Giustiniani has done a very good job to depict this.
In conclusion, even though Athena Giustiniani is not a perfect representation of Athena, it is an excellent piece of art that demonstrates many important attributes of Athena, especially her relation to masculine, warfare, and protection.
A sculpture, a piece of art, often represents the experience of the artist, the sculptor. As a result, the sculpture is also reflective of the time of which it was sculpted in. When comparing our sculpture, Athena Guistiniani to the Pallas Athene Statue erected at the Vienna Parliament it is evident that both reflected the different ideals of the country it was created in and the current situation of the country as well.
To start off, the Pallas Athene Statue was designed by the architect Baron Theophil Von Hansen and sculpted by various artists. Athena is seen holding a golden Nike, the goddess of victory in her right hand while she holds a spear with a gold tip in her left. Her breastplate is also accentuated with gold as well as the plumes of her helmet. The remainder of the statues remain white. The two women who flank the pillar of Athena represent legislative power (the woman with the book) and executive power (the woman with the sword). Below those two women are four other statues who represent the most important rivers of the Austrio-Hungarian Empire (van der Krogt ). Meanwhile, Athena Guistiniani, the roman copy of Pallas Athena, who’s sculpture is unknown is shown to be holding a dark spear with snakes coiling around her feet. Athena is also depicted wearing a helmet. Unlike the Pallas Athene Statue, Athena Guistiniani has no gold visible on her statue. The only color that is evident is the dark spear.
During the creation of the Pallas Athene Statue, right before World War 1, Austria was signing policies that would ally them with many powerful countries, like Germany (Austria). This made the parliament building a very sacred place as decisions were being made that would affect the country and its people. I believe this was one of the reasons why the Pallas Athene Statue was erected right in front of the parliament building, to have the goddess of wisdom guide them in the right direction and make decisions that would benefit the country and its people.
The original Athena Guistiniani (Athena Parthenos) was created by the people of Athens to thank Athena for her guidance and blessings of their victory against the Persians as well as the prosperity they were experiencing as a result of their victory. The original Athena Parthenos was sculpted using gold and ivory (Manford, 182). However, the Athena Guistiniani was not plated in gold and ivory. This change in material indicates that Athena does not hold much significance in that current time in Roman history. Athena Guistiniani seemed to be sculpted as a visual appreciation or as a complement to the original statue as the Athena Parthenos, however, this statue did not seem to be created to thank the goddess for her blessings.
It is clear that how each statue was sculpted was reflective of the country’s experience in that time in history. The Athena Guistiniani was less grand than the Pallas Athene Statue, indicating that she was sculpted to be admired, but did not have an important meaning to the Romans at the time. This also showed that during the time of Athena Guistiniani’s creation, Rome was perhaps experiencing a rather prosperous period, or had been for a very long time. Another indication of this is how the goddess is not holding the victory goddess Nike, unlike the original Athena Parthenon and the Pallas Athene Statue. The Pallas Athene Statue on the hand, showed the ideals and hopes of the country of Austria and their request to the goddess of wisdom as well as victory for guidance and prosperity, as indicated by the grandeur of the sculpture and the inclusion of other personified ideals. Like I mentioned before, at that time Austria was signing policies with other powerful countries and political unrest was starting to brew. The gold that highlights the war aspect of Athena and Nike herself, indicates that Austria hopes that Athena and Nike will lead their military to victory if they ever enter a war. However, since both the Pallas Athene Statue and the Athena Guistiniani were created with the government and war in mind both statues depicted Athena with attributes that related to war and wisdom.
All in all, by observing what aspects of the sculptures were accentuated and how the sculptures were designed, it gives us an idea on the ideals the country in which the sculpture was created in and an insight on what type of situation the country was in during that time in history.
Athena, son of Zeus, is one of the best well-known gods in Greek mythology. She is sensible and calm, a goddess of both civil and military. Her magical power and status show people what a real god is. Athena Giustiniani depicts the heroic image of Athena.
Generally, legendary characters have visions at birth. For example, the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus by the Holy Inspiration, the Buddha Shakyamuni was born with fingers points at the sky and the ground. and the birth of Athena is even more miraculous. The Homeric Hymn (28) tells the story of Athena's birth. Wise Zeus himself gave birth to Athena from his holy head and she was arrayed in her armor of war, all gleaming in gold. (Morford et al. 179) Because Athena was born in the mind of Zeus, and her mother was also the god of wisdom, Athena inherited the advantages of Zeus and Metis, was the embodiment of wisdom and power, and became Zeus's favorite daughter
Myths have some hints to the origin of human beings and national history. For example, The head of Zeus gave birth to Athena, which shows a certain evolution in ancient Greek history: the migration and integration of nations. Metis was the spiritual belief of the original Greek natives, and Zeus was the Indo-European god who later moved to Greece. Metis, the goddess of wisdom, represented the civilization of the Greek native at that time and was superior to the later immigrant civilization; she was swallowed by Zeus, and represented the indigenous Greek maternal and Indo-European patriarchal nations through struggle and balanced into a new Greek classical civilization-"Athena "This may represent the obedience of the conquered nation; but even though Metis was swallowed, he remained in the head of Zeus, and it also symbolized that the native nation still retained some of its own traditions. That's thought-provoking.
Now let's look at Athena Giustiniani, a marble copy of Greek sculpture Athena Pallas, from the end of the fifth century to the beginning of the fourth century BC.
We can see that Athena is shown in a standing position in a long robe and covered in a cloak. The aegis is at the height of her chest, there's a snake around Athena, she is Medusa. Medusa had the power to turn anyone who looked into her eyes into stone.
(Morford et al. 188). Athena's mighty was represented in the sculpture.
The Athena Giustiniani shows people's respect for Athena. We learn that Athena is a civilized, contemplative, and wise female god. She had a great influence both on the myth world and the real world.
In the following three paragraphs, I will introduce the history of the art piece Athena Giustiniani and compare its craftsmanship with another masterpiece- Athena Parthenos.
The piece for the exhibition, the Athena Giustiniani, is a 2.25-meter-high Roman marble copy of a Greek statue of Pallas Athena. The Greek sculpture was probably created in the late fifth to the early fourth century BCE by the talented Greek sculptor Pheidias (480-430 B.C.E.), who is known for his famous statue of Zeus in Olympia. After being discovered in the early seventeenth century in the ruins of a nymphaeum on the Esquiline Hill (one of the Seven Hills in Rome), the Athena Giustiniani became one of the items in the collection of Vincenzo Giustiniani (1564-1637 C.E.). The statue was hence named after the Italian aristocratic art collector and stored in the Palazzo Giustiniani. Unlike other items in the Giustiniani collection that suffered from the Napoleonic occupation of Paris, the statue had been bought by Lucien Bonaparte (1775-1840 C.E.), the younger brother of Napoleonic, in 1805. Prince Lucien installed Athena Giustiniani in the Palazzo Nunez, the grand hall of his Roman abode. Twelve years later, he sold it to Pope Pius VII (1742-1843 C.E.), the commissioner of the Braccio Nuovo of the Vatican Museums. Till then, Athena Giustiniani has finally found its permanent residence in the Vatican City.
The Athena Giustiniani has a simple yet elegant style, especially when compared with the Athena Parthenos. The Athena Giustiniani depicts the solemn image of the virgin goddess Athena. Except for the spear that she holds with her right hand, the entire statue is built in white marble. She wears her symbolic goatskin aegis and a war helmet, reminding us of her masculinity, which was shown from her birth. As Homeric Hymn tells us, “She quickly sprang forth from the immortal head in front of aegis-bearing Zeus, brandishing her sharp spear.” (“To Athena” 28) In other variations, Athena cries out thunderously as she springs to life in full battle dress. (Morford et al. 177) As much prowess as she has, Athena is not depicted as an aggressive war goddess in the Athena Giustiniani. She stands with her left arm lifted up and placed gracefully below her breasts. The full-length pleated robe drapes around her, showing her feminine side. Like many other Greek statues, the eyeballs of the figures were not noticeable anymore after over a thousand years since they were built, but it is not hard to see that Athena, as the goddess of wisdom and patroness of Athens, is gazing afar. The mouth is slightly drooped, which accentuates her chastity and virginity. Lastly, a coiled serpent lying at Athena’s right foot is associated with the myth of Erichthonius in his serpent form.
The original copy of the Athena Parthenos, which stood thirty-eight feet tall, was also said to be created by Pheidias. Instead of using plain marble as for the Athena Giustiniani, the Athena Parthenos was covered in gold. Although the statue has been lost since a long time ago, we know from ancient literary sources that the reconstructed copy by N. Leipen, like many other copies, is never comparable to the marvelous beauty of the original. The Athena Giustiniani only used ivory for Athena’s face and body, while everything else was in gold. It required more than a ton of gold sheathing. (Morford et al. 182) In this statue, Athena’s helmet was tall and prominent. She was holding a shield and letting the long spear lean against her arm. The intricate reliefs on her helmet, shield, aegis, and sandals show sophisticated craftsmanship. The delicately carved necklace and bands around her upper arms and wrists give Athena an extra touch of femininity. Also different from the slender figure in Athena Giustiniani, Athena in the Athena Parthenos had a moon face and a full and round body. The peacefulness and kindness in her eyes reduce the seriousness in Athena as an unreachable goddess. Instead, it highlights her amiability as a protector of her people. As the best representation of the high classical style and the triumph of Greek civilization, the Athena Parthenos was both majestic and awe-inspiring.
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