Athena Nike Parapet Frieze
The parapet relief was created late during the Peloponnesian war (circa 410 BCE), after the Athenians suffered several humiliating defeats that placed the fate of their empire in jeopardy. The sculptures depict victory, repeated over and over around the structure in a monotonous manner with little variety in form or activity. Instead of a narrative the artist’s interest revolves around the intricate folds of the drapery of Nike’s chiton as it flows around the body seemingly oblivious to the laws of nature or the actions of the figure under it.
The craftsmanship of the relief is exquisite and reveals a change in focus from the human anatomy and narrative structure to a more formal (and some would say superficial) preoccupation with line and contrast as the fabric twists and turns more in order to create an impression, and less to realistically describe physical events. In this sense, the figures of Nike derive their meaning and importance from ornamentation and flair. Perhaps the relief was meant to be a distraction for the brutal reality of the enduring war, or simply the enchantment with the accurate representation of the figure had run its course and new aesthetic concepts were explored. In any case, the relief sculptures of the parapet of the temple of Athena Nike can be seen as a prelude to the later stylistic conventions of Hellenistic art.
Nike Adjusting her Sandal is a characteristic example of this new developments with the depiction of the transparent drapery that not only reveals the body underneath in all its glory, but it also implies the development of artists who, having mastered human anatomy look forward to unexplored ways to use the figure as an expressive medium, and to exhibit their aptitude.