Caryatid from the Erechtheion
© The Trustees of the British Museum
The Acropolis, Athens, Greece, around 420 BC
One of six who served in place of columns in a porch of the temple
Caryatids are female figures serving as supports. The most likely derivation of their name is from the young women of Sparta who danced every year in honour of Artemis Karyatis ('Artemis of the Walnut Tree'). This is one of six caryatids that held up the roof of the temple on the Acropolis known as the Erechtheion. She wears a peplos, a simple tunic pinned on each shoulder. Her hair is braided and falls in a thick rope down her back. She probably held a sacrificial vessel in one of the missing hands.
The figure strongly resembles the women of the east frieze of the Parthenon, which had just been completed when work on the Erechtheion began. She carries an architectural capital like a basket on her head. From the side, her burden seems to bear down upon her; the weight is taken on the right leg, encased in perpendicular folds arranged like the fluting of a column shaft. The other leg is flexed with the drapery moulded to it.
Between 1800 and 1803, G.B. Lusieri, acting on behalf of Lord Elgin, removed this caryatid, which stood second from the left on the front of the south porch. During the Greek War of Independence (1821-33) the Erectheion was reduced to ruins, although the caryatids survived. It has since been reconstructed. The British Museum's caryatid is better preserved than her sisters, which have now severely weathered. They have recently been removed to the Acropolis Museum and replaced by casts.
Height: 231 cm
Greek & Roman