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Caryatid

Definition:

The generally accepted definition of a caryatid (also spelt Karyatid) is: a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting an entablature on her head.

However, here you see a male example.

Also in Ruben's modello of "Thetis dipping Achilles into the river Styx" there is a male caryatid: Pluto.

Subject info:

Some of the earliest known examples were found in the treasuries of Delphi, dating to about the 6th century BC, but their use as supports in the form of female figures can be traced back even farther, to ritual basins, ivory mirror handles from Phoenicia, and draped figures from archaic Greece. The best-known and most-copied examples are those of the six figures of the Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion on the Acropolis at Athens (illustration, right).

One of those original six figures, removed by Lord Elgin in the early 1800s, is now in the British Museum in London. The other five figures, although they are damaged by erosion, are in the Acropolis Museum.

The Romans also copied the Erechtheion caryatids, installing copies in the Forum of Augustus and the Pantheon in Rome, and Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli.

In modern times, the practice of integrating caryatids into building facades was revived in the later 16th century and, from the examples engraved for Sebastiano Serlio's treatise on architecture, became a fixture in the decorative vocabulary of Northern Mannerism expressed by the Fontainebleau School and the engravers of designs in Antwerp. Caryatids remained part of the German Baroque vocabulary (illustration, right) and were refashioned in more restrained and "Grecian" forms by neoclassical architects and designers. In the early 17th century interior examples appear in Europe, such as the overmantle in the great hall of Muchalls Castle in Scotland. In exterior architecture, among the most famous examples is the copy of the porch on the 1822 Saint Pancras Church in London, which includes four terra cotta figures, and the many caryatids lined up on the facade of the 1893 Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. In the arts of design, the draped figure supporting an acanthus-grown basket capital taking the form of a candlestick or a table-support is a familiar cliché of neoclassical decorative arts.

The origins of the term are unclear. It is first recorded in the Latin form caryatides by the Roman architect Vitruvius. He stated in his 1st century BC work De architectura that the female figures of the Erechtheion represented the punishment of the women of Caryae (Greek Karyiai), a town near Sparta in Laconia, who were condemned to slavery after betraying Athens by siding with Persia in the Greco-Persian Wars. The Greek term karuatides literally means "maidens of Karuai" or Caryae.

However, Vitruvius' explanation is doubtful; well before the Persian Wars, female figures were used as decorative supports in Greece and the ancient Near East. Karyai had a famous temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis in her aspect of Artemis Karyatis: "As Karyatis she rejoiced in the dances of the nut-tree village of Karyai, those Karyatides who in their ecstatic round-dance carried on their heads baskets of live reeds, as if they were dancing plants" (Kerenyi 1980 p 149).

A caryatid supporting a basket on her head is called a canephora ("basket-bearer"), representing one of the maidens who carried sacred objects used at feasts of the gods. The Erectheion caryatids, in a shrine dedicated to an archaic king of Athens, may therefore represent priestesses of Artemis in a place named for the "nut-tree sisterhood" – apparently in Mycenaean times, like other plural feminine toponyms, such as Hyrai or Athens itself.

The male counterpart of a caryatid is referred to as a telemon (plural telemones) or Atlas (plural, atlantes) – the name refers to the legend of Atlas, who bore the sphere of the heavens on his shoulders. Such figures were used on a monumental scale, notably in the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Agrigento, Sicily.

More information on other sculpture.