By the time Theodosius I banned the Olympics and ordered the destruction of the temples, the sanctuary had amassed an incredible amount of buildings, fountains, baths, statues, trophies, and votive offerings of every kind. Even though Olympia was plundered several times in antiquity, archaeologists have unearthed a wealth of objects during excavations that started in 1875 and continue to our day. The Museum at Olympia shelters and exhibits the most striking of these finds, some of which are worth traveling around the world to experience in person.
Hermes of PraxitelesPerhaps the most famous of all the statues in the Olympia Museum is The Hermes of Praxiteles. Circa 340 BCE
Hermes is holding the infant Dionysus in his left arm, while he dangles a bunch of grapes in his right (missing) one. It is a typical pose that was reproduced almost identically in many ancient statues, but the original one was attributed to Praxiteles.
The marble is beautifully carved to describe the anatomy of the body in accurate forms, while the treatment of the surface juxtaposing sheen and texture reveal the different roles of the stone: skin, cloth, tree, and hair.
Hermes has assumed the contrapposto pose, typical of Classical standing figures, in an effortless and natural way--his hip pushed upward on the right side to support the entire weight of his body.
Temple of Zeus PedimentsThe Temple of Zeus' East pediment.
It depicts the chariot race between Oinomaos and Pelops. They appear in the moments before the race, in a calm and ordered composition. In the center of the group, Zeus is the ultimate observer is flanked by the two heroes and their wives. Next to them are their horses and chariots (now lost) and several auxiliary figures. The reclining figures at the two ends of the pediment represent the two rivers of Olympia, Alpheios and Kladeos.
The first photo shows the sculptures as they are displayed in the museum, while the one on the right is a composite of several photos to simulate the East pediment in a more comprehensive way.
- The Temple of Zeus' West pediment.
This arrangement of sculptures contrasts the serenity of the East pediment with a much more dynamic composition that illustrates the fight between Centaurs and Lapiths who are engaged in a battle over the abduction of the Lapith women. Apollo presides over all in the center flanked by the heroes Theseus and Peirithoos. The figures a the ends were destroyed in 460 BCE and they were replaced at a later date with the ones found in excavations.
The first photo shows the sculptures as they are displayed in the museum, while the one on the right is a composite of several photos to simulate the West pediment in a more comprehensive way.
- The figure at the north corner of the West pediment depicting one of the two rivers of Olympia.
- Figure of the old diviner from the temple of Zeus East pediment. The intense facial expression is unique for this early period of classical art.
- One of the chariot attendants from the East pediment.
- Statue of Oinomaos from the East pediment of the temple of Zeus.
This photo depicts the statue from an angle below, closer to the way it was meant to be seen by viewers that looked up at the temple's pediment.
- The ruined statue of Zeus from the center of the East pediment of the temple of Zeus.
- One of the figures from the West pediment of the temple of Zeus. It is a later addition to replace the original statue that was destroyed for unknown reasons in 460 BCE.
- Two views of the statue of Apollo from the West pediment of the temple of Zeus.
He has his himation thrown over his right shoulder and stands firm, in a pose of minimal movement but maximum power. His right arm extends toward the figures of Peirithoos, Didameia, and Eurytion, in a gesture that establishes (or calls for the establishment of) order amidst the violence instigated by the beastly centaurs. His face, typical of the Severe style of the early Classical era, reflects the austere serenity and seriousness of his intentions.
The photo on the left is the typical shot of the statue as it appears at eye level in the museum. The photo on the right depicts the statue from an angle below, closer to the way it was meant to be seen by viewers that looked up at the temple's pediment.
- Central group of statues from the West pediment.
- Deidameia repelling the Centaur Eurythion. The fragments on the right are the remnants of the statue of Peirithoos who is about to strike the Centaur to save his young bride from his brutality. Note the austere facial expression of Deidameaia, typical of the period's idealism where "civilized" humans depicted as if they are always in control of their emotions, as opposed to the beasts that are unable to achieve this level.
This photo depicts the statues from an angle below, closer to the way they were meant to be seen by viewers as they looked up at the temple's pediment.
- Young Lapith fighting with a Centaur who is biting his arm.
The aforementioned stylistic convention of the Classical era where civilized men show no facial expression and the barbarians are shown in grotesque facial appearance is vividly visible in this group.
- Group of statues from the West pediment of the temple of Zeus.
A beautiful composition of movement and rhythm is unfolding through the struggle of the young woman to escape a kneeling centaur with the help of another Lapith. The twisting pleats of her peplos is reminiscent of the movement of waves. Note the detail of the hand and foot on the right photo.
The Temple of Zeus MetopesThe temple of Zeus metopes appeared on the east and west facades, and depict the labors of Heracles.
Many of the sculptures were found severely damaged, but some survived with enough detail to reveal masterful compositions of figure groups in relief. They were carved in Parian marble in 470-457 BCE.
This series of photos depict the sculptures from an angle below, closer to the way they were meant to be seen by viewers as they looked up at the temple's metopes high above the epistyle (architrave).
- Metope from the east side of the temple of Zeus.
Heracles cleaning the stables of Augean. The goddess Athena points with hand hand at the spot where he should strike to create an opening at the foundations of the stable.
- A metope from the east side of the temple of Zeus depicts Heracles performing his Golden Apples of the Hesperides labor. Athena stands behind the hero, helping him support the enormous weight of the sky which rests on his shoulders. A cushion helps him endure the task. Atlas on the right has just returned and presents the apples he fetched for him.
- The 7th metope from the west facade of the temple of Zeus depicts Heracles arresting the Cretan Bull.
It is a striking composition with dominant diagonal lines that bestow a wild sense of action to the scene.
- Metope from the west side of the temple of Zeus illustrates another Heracles labor, the killing of the Stymphalian Birds. He has just finished the task and presents Athena with the lifeless birds (have not survived). The goddess is seated on a rock barefoot.
The heads of the two figures are plaster replicas that replace the original parts that are in the Louvre museum in Paris (along with Heracles' right arm).
- Colossal female head wearing the polos, a sacred headdress..
It might be from the statue of Hera that was situated inside the Archaic Temple of Hera (Heraion), or from an acroterion Sphinx of another building.
Limestone. Circa 600 BCE
- Clay head of Athena.
- The restored entablature and pediment from the treasury of the Megarians (left) and detail of a dying giant (right). 6th century BCE.
The sculpture group of the pediment depicts a Gigantomachy (battle between gods and giants). Most of the statues were found in bits and pieces but one giant survived almost intact (image on the right). He is in the process of falling after being wounded by Zeus.
- Clay warrior.
Early 5th c. BCE
- Clay statue of Zeus carrying Ganymedes to immortality.
- The Nike of Paionios of Mende in Chalkidiki, Macedonia (his name is carved on the base of the statue). Circa 420 BCE.
The statue, even in its ruinous state reveals a strong sense of movement emphasized by the strong diagonal pose (side view), the hovering feet, and the lines of the himation that push against her body as if forced by the wind. Her spread wings and the face have not survived.
- Bronze Assyrian sheet decorated with hammered scenes divided in four horizontal zones. The top zone depicts a procession of men, the next below shows a female figure flanked by two men, the next zone below represents two men fighting, and the bottom one has horsemen galloping. It was made in the 8th century BCE in an Assyrian workshop.
- Bronze statuette representing a stag attacked by three dogs.
8th c. BCE
- A typical bronze statuette of Zeus throwing a thunderbolt. This particular pose of Zeus was reproduced countless times in crude little statuettes, and it has been found in several sanctuaries throughout Greece. The type was particularly popular in the 5th century BCE.
- Bronze statuette of a youth. It appears in the typical pose of a "diadoumenos", and it was probably a handle of a utensil.
6th c. BCE
- Three shields. One
Shield decoration of a Gorgo with serpents, lion's legs, and a dragon tail 7(left); a shield bronze ornament depicting a gorgoneion with three revolving wings (middle); an unadorned round shield (right).
- Head of a griffin. It was part of a votive tripod rim.
Bronze. 7th c. BCE.
- A figure made of hammered bronze sheets. It is a rare example of this manufacturing technique which was widely used in the Archaic period before the invention of the lost-wax process that allowed the creation of hollow sculptures.
- Statue of a seating lion.
- The helmet Miltiades dedicated to Zeus at the sanctuary after he led the Athenians in victory at Marathon. The act is inscribed on the helmet itself "ΜΙΛΤΙΑΔΕΣ ΑΝΕΘΕΚΕΝ ΤΟΙ ΔΙΙ" (the name Miltiades is clearly visible in the lower left part of the helmet). 490 BCE.
- A Persian helmet dedicated to Zeus by the Athenians after their win against the Persians at Marathon. The helmet was part of the battle spoils and it is inscribed "ΔΙΙ ΑΘΕΝΑΙΟΙ ΜΕΔΟΝ ΛΑΒΟΝΤΕΣ" ([Offered to] Zeus from the Athenians who took it from the Medes). 490 BCE.
- Marble head of a woman.
- Several sculptures of body parts is exhibited in the museum. They were offered by devotees to the gods in hopes of a cure for the afflicted body part.
The practice is still alive in Greece where icons of Christ, Panagia, or Saints is covered by little plaques representing body parts that have been offered in exchange for a cure (example).