Figure of Iris from the west pediment of the Parthenon, British Museum, London

Welcome to “Art, Culture & Books” with me Anthony King. Today I’ll be taking you on a video and photographic tour of the Figure of Iris from the west pediment of the Parthenon, British Museum, London.

Iris, a figure from Greek mythology, is portrayed as a goddess of the rainbow and a messenger for the Olympian gods. Described as fleet-footed, she could swiftly travel on the rainbow bridge between Earth and heaven. The statue identified as Iris, the winged messenger goddess, exhibits drapery movement and a pose suggesting the rush of wind against her body during flight.

I have actually visited the Acropolis in Athens. It might have been the hottest temperature I have ever experienced up there. If you visit the British Museum though you will have to slightly use your imagination. The west pediment of the Parthenon depicted a local Athenian myth featuring the contest between the goddess Athena and Poseidon, god of the sea, for the land of Attica (the city of Athens and its countryside). In the triangular composition’s centre, Athena and Poseidon are portrayed on a colossal scale, with other figures arranged on either side, including two chariot groups corresponding to each protagonist.

Accompanying Athena and Poseidon are divine messengers, Hermes with Athena and Iris with Poseidon. In the representation, Iris is depicted as if just landing on the Acropolis, with her drapery pressed flat against her body and fluttering at the edges, secured at the waist by a now-missing blue belt. The bronze wings, also absent, were originally socketed into her shoulders at the back.

The surviving statue of Iris is a female torso preserved to the knees, wearing a short, sleeveless garment girdled at the waist, likely with a now-missing metal girdle. The drapery clings to her body in some areas, while in others, the folds of material flutter around restlessly. The left leg was attached by a round pin, the hole of which is visible, and a fragment of a left arm, partially covered with drapery. There’s speculation that the absent head could be the so-called Laborde head, which I think I have seen in the past which is currently at the Louvre, Paris.

By Anthony King (c)