Year 3 Visual Arts

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A Building of Lines - The Parthenon

parthenon today and parthenon with line of symmetry indicated

Our word 'architect', the name we use for a person who designs buildings, comes from the combination of two ancient Greek words, the first meaning 'chief ' and the second, 'builder'. One of the most famous buildings of ancient Greece, so well designed and built it is still standing today, is the Parthenon [parth-er-NON]. Its architects were Ictinos and Callicrates, and they worked together with a famous Greek sculptor, Phidias. Set on the Acropolis hill overlooking the centre of the capital city of Athens, it was designed as a temple (a place of worship) for the goddess Athena in 440 BC. Since it was built for this purpose and in such a prominent place, it shows us that mythology was important and very real to the ancient Greeks, although it can be just a set of great stories to us. Now you know that a temple for Athena stood at the heart of Athens, you can see where the city's name came from.

When the Parthenon was first built, it would have looked different to how it looks today. Not all of the building would have been plain white stone as it is today: the pale marble would have been painted in bright colours in places, such as the background of the frieze, so that the sculpted figures would be easier to see from below and from far away.

Lines were very important to the architects who designed the Parthenon. Use some of the names to describe the kinds of lines you see in this building. Did you talk about horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines?

It is easy to spot the long, horizontal lines of the roof and the vertical lines of the columns that support it. What about curving or diagonal lines - can you find some? They are there if you look carefully! Here's a clue: think about the columns, and take a look at ends of the roof. The language of line is useful for appreciating the architects' design of the Parthenon.

When we looked at Leonardo da Vinci's painting Last Supper, we looked at lines. Can you remember what we call an imaginary line that shows where equal forms are reflected? It is a line of symmetry. In the Parthenon, it runs from the highest point on the roof down to the steps. How many columns are there on each side of this dotted line?

Can you think of something else that's symmetrical? Take a look in a mirror - your face is basically symmetrical, isn't it? The ancient Greeks thought that everything in nature was balanced or symmetrical in some way. Many architects designed buildings to copy the proportions and lines of symmetry they saw in the world around them. It could be, then, that the symmetry in the short side of the Parthenon reflects the symmetry of a human face. Even the columns could reflect the line of the human body. Ancient Greek architectural writers stated that columns were designed to echo the balance between the legs, body and head in the human form. Could this be one of the reasons why we still find the Parthenon such an appealing building to look at after all this time?

This activity is adapted from pages 192 - 194 of What Your Year 3 Child Needs to Know, which can be purchased here.

This activity has cross-curricular connections: click below to see related activities:

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