Temples in Art Through the Ages

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Gardner’s Chapter 5 of Art Through the Ages introduces us first to the Egyptianized stone architecture of the Prinias Temples, in addition to the Doric style of the Temple of Hera. Each temple’s unique architectural characteristics hint at the socio-cultural foundations underlying its construction. Both date to the Archaic Period of Greek architecture in which the Doric style was heavily featured and stone-based construction, influenced possibly by Middle Eastern styles, predominated. Ultimately, the architecture of this period remains partly shrouded in mystery with regard to its builders’ intentions and motivations.

When an archaeological excavation uncovered the seventh-century BCE Prinias Temple A, it's stone architecture of Egyptian origin was identified as its most striking feature. Today, a peak-sanctuary hovers above the ruinous site, a vestige of sub-Minoan technique. We can date Temple A to approximately 625 BCE and the temple itself is the first Greek temple known to have been decorated primarily with sculpture, as illustrated in particular by the limestone lintel that holds two statues of goddesses in the seated position, each facing the other. The identities or purposes of these figures remain uncertain. Though the general architectural plan is in the Mycenaean tradition, with a flat-roofed structure and a pier-laden faced, an Orientalized panther pattern on each side of the goddess figures suggests a Northern Syrian influence, though it is unclear whether the temple was designed by a builder hailing from the Middle East region.

In addition to the Northern Syrian influence, the two interior columns on either side of what appears to be a kind of sacrificial pit suggest Eastern influence in the Temple A’s construction during the Archaic Period. In addition, the Lady of Auxerre statue also suggests an Egyptian influence on Greek Archaic architecture. The statute illustrates a woman adorned in clothing, as goddesses in Ancient Greece would have been. However, the woman does not wear a head-dress, which would have been expected of such a goddess or, indeed, of any Greek woman of the period. It remains uncertain as to why this temple was constructed and for what specific purpose it was constructed. Like the second temple discussed below, Prinias Temple A’s history is somewhat shrouded in mystery.

The Temple of Hera I, with its array of cigar-shaped pillars, illustrates the Doric architectural tradition. The temple is one of the earliest known examples of the Doric style, erected in 550 BC. Its most fascinating feature is that its support beam structure precluded the possibility of a center-statute, which was common, if not mandatory, for temples designed for the worship of a particular deity such as the Shiva Nataraja, though the temple does appear to contain two cultic statues, one of a seated Hera and another of a standing Zeus. A central row of columns serves to split the cell of the temple evenly into two ails, thereby eliminating the possibility of a centric structure. Nevertheless, the Doric tradition is honored by the architect through the closely-spaced thick pillars described above, 18 of which surround the temple’s base.

Both the Prinias Temple A and the Temple of Hera I illustrate examples of Archaic Period Greek Architecture, with its stone-centric construction and other suggestive characteristics, as detailed above. What is most engaging about these structures and others of the period is that they suggest and Eastern influence wrought of Egyptian architecture, likely stemming from Greek trading outposts and colonies in the Near Eastern region. And yet, these do not necessarily explain the absence of a central deity statute in Temple of Hera I or the panther Orientalization found on the Prinias Temple A. As such, both temples, though dated to the Doric architectural tradition, contain seeds of mystery as to how and why their architects so constructed them. In time, we may yet learn the answer to this question and thus learn even more about the unique construction of these structures.


Fred S. Kleiner and Christine J. Mamiya, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages the Western Perspective, 12th ed. (Belmont: The Thomas Corporation, 2006), 85-130.