A caryatid ( _el. Καρυάτις, "plural:" Καρυάτιδες) is a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support taking the place of a
columnor a pillar supporting an entablatureon her head. The Greek term "karyatides" literally means "maidens of Karyae", an ancient town of Peloponnese. Karyai had a famous temple dedicated to the goddess Artemisin her aspect of Artemis Karyatis: "As Karyatisshe rejoiced in the dances of the nut-tree village of Karyai, those Karyatides, who in their ecstatic round-dance carried on their heads baskets of live reeds, as if they were dancing plants" (Kerenyi 1980 p 149).
Some of the earliest known examples were found in the treasuries of Delphi, dating to about the 6th century BC, but their use as supports in the form of women can be traced back even earlier, to ritual basins, ivory mirror handles from
Phoenicia, and draped figures from archaic Greece. The best-known and most-copied examples are those of the six figures of the Caryatid Porchof the Erechtheionon the Acropolis at Athens ("illustrations, right").
One of those original six figures, removed by Lord Elgin in the early 1800s, is now in the
British Museumin London. The other five figures, although they are damaged by erosion and replaced onsite by replicas, are in the Acropolis Museum.
The Romans also copied the Erechtheion caryatids, installing copies in the
Forum of Augustusand the Pantheon in Rome, and at Hadrian's Villaat Tivoli. Another Roman example, found on the Via Appia, is the Townley Caryatid.
In modern times, the practice of integrating caryatids into building facades was revived in the 16th century and, from the examples engraved for
Sebastiano Serlio's treatise on architecture, became a fixture in the decorative vocabulary of Northern Mannerism expressed by the Fontainebleau Schooland the engravers of designs in Antwerp. In the early 17th century interior examples appear in Europe, such as the overmantlein the great hallof Muchalls Castlein Scotland. Caryatids remained part of the German Baroquevocabulary ("illustration, right") and were refashioned in more restrained and "Grecian" forms by neoclassical architects and designers, such as the four terracotta caryatids on the porch of St Pancras New Church, London (1822). Many caryatids lined up on the facade of the 1893 Palace of the Arts housing the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. In the arts of design, the draped figure supporting an acanthus-grown basket capital taking the form of a candlestick or a table-support is a familiar cliché of neoclassical decorative arts. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Artin Sarasota has caryatids as a motif on its eastern facade.
The origins of the term are unclear. It is first recorded in the
Latinform "caryatides" by the Roman architect Vitruvius. He stated in his 1st century BC work " De architectura" that the female figures of the Erechtheionrepresented the punishment of the women of Caryae (Greek "Karyiai"), a town near Spartain Laconia, who were condemned to slavery after betraying Athensby siding with Persiain the Greco-Persian Wars.
However, Vitruvius' explanation is doubtful; well before the Persian Wars, female figures were used as decorative supports in Greece and the ancient Near East.
A caryatid supporting a basket on her head is called a "canephora" ("basket-bearer"), representing one of the maidens who carried sacred objects used at feasts of the goddesses
Athenaand Artemis. The Erectheion caryatids, in a shrine dedicated to an archaic king of Athens, may therefore represent priestesses of Artemis in Karyai, a place named for the "nut-tree sisterhood" – apparently in Mycenaean times, like other plural feminine toponyms, such as Hyrai or Athens itself.
The later male counterpart of the caryatid is referred to as a "
telamon" (plural "telamones") or "atlas" (plural "atlantes") – the name refers to the legend of Atlas, who bore the sphere of the heavens on his shoulders. Such figures were used on a monumental scale, notably in the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Agrigento, Sicily.
* [http://www.pantheon.org/articles/a/artemis.html Artemis at Pantheon.org]
*Kerényi, Karl (1951) 1980. "The Gods of the Greeks" (
Thames & Hudson)
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