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The Morning Report - 8/1/19 | Main | The Morning Rant: Minimalist Edition
August 01, 2019

Mid-Morning Art Thread [Kris]

Muller Acropolis.jpg

A View Of The Acropolis From The Pnyx
Rudolf Muller

There is arguably no other building on earth that is more studied, more admired, more copied, more influential than the Parthenon. The present Temple to the Virgin Athena was designed to be the very symbol of Athenian superiority in all things—religion, politics, philosophy, people… anything that makes a culture a culture. It is the centerpiece of the Acropolis, the most holy place of the most powerful city in 5th century BC Greece. Its white pentelic marble gleamed in the sun while its intricate, complex and colorful sculptural program celebrated the very concept of Athens itself. Over time, the Parthenon, and anything associated with it, became the very symbols of individual liberty, civic duty, human intellect and superiority, absolute order and perfection. To people in Muller's age, ancient Athens was the Ideal, the pinnacle of western civilization: THE Golden Age.

Muller uses color and composition to reflect these attitudes. In the very foreground of the work, closest to the viewer, Muller places the pnyx. Here, citizens of Athens gathered to discuss the issues of the day, to debate laws, and make policy. It became associated with the earliest manifestations of democracy and finds its modern equivalent in Boston Common. Its proximity to the viewer may symbolize that democracy is the most tangible, most familiar artifact from Classical Athens. It is carved from the rock -- democracy is a human-made system that carved order out of chaos. The angular lines of the platform recede into the background and the staircase invites the viewer's eye to follow them.

In the distant background, lit by the sun, and silhouetted by the blue sky, is the golden-colored Akropolis. It sits atop a natural plateau above the city of Athens (which can be seen in the lower left) and towers over the landscape. Apollo, the ancient god of the sun, wisdom, and the arts, may also be symbolized here. The Parthenon was dedicated to the goddess of wisdom, Athena, the patron goddess of Athens. By having these two wise deities together, Muller may also be emphasizing the prestige of Classical philosophy. It wouldn’t be the first time an artist paired these two to represent philosophy. The most famous may be Raphael’s “School of Athens”. The Parthenon was designed to be the physical embodiment of absolute beauty; it is a mathematically, visually and aesthetically perfect building.

By having the Acropolis framed by the near-empty sky, Muller makes sure nothing distracts from the true focus of the painting. The Acropolis is also the brightest item in the work, bathed in yellow-orange and framed by light purples, blues and greens, attracting further the viewer's eye. The divine golden light shines from the heavens and reflects off the pure white marble of the buildings onto the surrounding landscape, and onto the pnyx, onto the viewer, and onto history.

There may also be some pessimism in the painting too. The pnyx and Acropolis are not depicted as new, but are in ruins, and it is sunset (the viewer is looking east -- the sun is low in the sky behind us). This golden age in is the distant past and although its ideals still shine into Muller's time, and democracy is still very prominent, it is only a reflection and it seems to be fading. The Day of the Timeless Ideal seems to be coming to an end.

[Kris has graciously agreed (after much begging from me), to write an occasional art thread. Look for her name in the headline so you won't be surprised to find actual informed art criticism on these august pages]


digg this
posted by CBD at 09:30 AM

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