The Parthenon, 1871
Frederic Edwin Church (American, 1826–1900)
Oil on canvas; 44 1/2 x 72 5/8 in. (113 x 184.5 cm)
Bequest of Maria DeWitt Jesup, from the collection of her husband, Morris K. Jesup, 1914 (15.30.67)
On a journey to Europe and the Near East, Church visited Athens for several days in April 1869 expressly to make pencil and oil sketches of the Parthenon, which he regarded as the ultimate paragon of Western architecture. An 1871 commission from the New York financier and philanthropist Morris K. Jesup enabled the artist to execute this picture, which was exhibited in the classically inspired frame Church designed for it at Goupil's Gallery in spring 1872. Weathered by more than twenty centuries and gutted by an explosion in 1687, the Parthenon in Church's eyes looms as an obdurate testament to civilization, its fractured form hardened by the low, thick light of sundown interrupted by the shadow cast in the foreground helping to set off the glowing monument. The artist did not forget the building's awesome effect atop the Acropolis when, in the following year, he began building his stone mansion, Olana, still standing today, on the crest of a hill overlooking the Hudson River.