Fugitive stones: the temple of Athena Nike, Athens in nineteenth-century photographs

Smith, Lindsay (2020) Fugitive stones: the temple of Athena Nike, Athens in nineteenth-century photographs. Nineteenth-Century Contexts, 42 (2). pp. 137-158. ISSN 0890-5495

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What happens when early cameras are turned to 5th century BCE monuments and sculptures on the Acropolis of Athens? In what ways might the fragile surface of a daguerreotype, a salted paper print or an albumen print be said to have ‘captured’ a pentelic marble fragment? These questions were thrown into bold relief following the public announcement of the daguerreotype in 1839 when travellers to Greece in search of sites of archaeological interest began to take cameras with them. With rapid developments in photographic technology, photographs joined landmark texts and a body of drawings, paintings, engravings, plaster casts to alter established relationships with antiquities. Highly emotive material objects, photographs spoke a new language of loss and fragmentation; through the relative ease of their reproducibility photographs newly facilitated memory and forms of aesthetic resurrection.

My essay charts nineteenth-century photographs of fragments of relief sculptures of Nikai from the exterior face of the parapet of the Ionic Temple of Athena Nike. Excavation and rebuilding of the Temple during 1835 and 1836 drew the eye of many travellers to the Acropolis. Resurrection of the classical temple shortly preceded the new technology of photography and, in representing a monument described by Wheler and Spon among others, photographs rehabilitated ‘lost’ stones. Exploring, alongside travel narratives, newly fugitive representations of winged and apterous Nikai, I consider what Walter Benjamin termed the collector’s relationship to ‘the scene, the stage’ of the ‘fate’ of a material object.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Acropolis, antiquities, Athens, fugitive, memory, Nike, nineteenth-century photography, nineteenth-century travellers, photograph albums, 'Sandalbinder'
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Research Centres and Groups: Centre for Photography and Visual Culture
Depositing User: Lindsay Smith
Date Deposited: 27 Jun 2019 08:48
Last Modified: 17 Sep 2021 01:00
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/84613

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