Phidias, a Greek sculptor, born in Athens, probably between 490 and 488 B. C, died there about 432. The dates of the most important events in his career can only be approximately ascertained. He is supposed to have belonged to a family of artists, and is said to have originally occupied himself with painting. He was instructed in sculpture by two native artists, Hegesias and Ageladas, and probably between the ages of 25 and 30 began to exercise his calling in Athens. His subjects were for the most part sacred, and among the works attributed to him are nine statues of Athena (Minerva), the tutelary goddess of his native city. One of these, at Pellene in Achaia, was perhaps his earliest public work. About the same time he executed the group of 13 bronze statues dedicated by the Athenians at Delphi out of the tithe of their share of the spoils taken from the Persians at Marathon, and the colossal bronze statue of Athena Pro-machos in the Athenian acropolis, 50 or 60 ft. high, which is also said to have been made from the spoils of Marathon. Pericles made him general director of all the great works of art in progress in Athens, including the pro-pylaaa of the acropolis and the Parthenon. For the latter he executed the colossal chryselephantine or gold and ivory statue of Athena, which stood in the prodomus or front chamber of the temple.
It was formed of plates of ivory laid upon a core of wood or stone for the flesh parts, while the drapery, the segis, the buckler, the helmet, and other accessories were of solid gold, adorned with devices and elaborately engraved with subjects taken from Athenian legends. No expense was spared by the Athenians to make this statue worthy of the shrine in which it was enclosed; and it is said that when the sculptor intimated his desire to execute it in marble, they directed him to employ those materials which were the most costly. The weight of the gold has been estimated at between 40 and 50 talents, or about $50,000. It was removed from the statue by Lachares in the time of Demetrius Poliorcetes, about 296 B. 0. Previous to the time of Phidias, colossal statues when not of bronze were acroliths, the head, hands, and feet being of marble, while the body was of wood, concealed by real drapery; and the substitution of ivory and gold for these materials is believed to have been his invention. Supposed copies of the statue are in existence, and restorations have been attempted by Quatre-mere de Quincy and others.
The architectural sculptures in marble of the Parthenon have generally been ascribed to Phidias, but that opinion is controverted by W. W. Story, in " Blackwood's Magazine " for December, 1873. (See Elgin Marbles.) The Athena was finished in 438, and, with the Parthenon, was dedicated in the same year. Shortly afterward, at the invitation of the Eleans, Phidias commenced at Olympia the colossal chryselephantine statue of Jupiter, his masterpiece. The god was represented as seated upon a throne of cedar wood, holding in one hand an ivory and gold statue of Victory and in the other a sceptre, with his feet supported by a footstool, which, as well as every part of the throne, and its base, was elaborately adorned with gold, ivory, ebony, and gems, with enchased work and paintings, with sculptures of precious metals, and with numerous accessory groups and bass reliefs. The statue was nearly 60 ft. high, and occupied Phidias and his assistants, among whom were Colotes and Al-camenes, sculptors, and Panaenus the painter, between four and five years, from 437 probably to 433. It was removed by the emperor Theodosius I. to Constantinople, where it perished by fire in A. D. 475. Restorations of it have been attempted by Quatremere de Quincy and Flaxman. On the completion of the statue Phidias returned to Athens, where a formidable party was aiming at the overthrow of Pericles. Fearing to attack the great Athenian statesman directly, his enemies sought to undermine his influence by persecuting his friends; and Phidias was accused by one Me-non, a workman employed upon the Parthenon, of stealing a portion of the gold appropriated to the colossal statue of Athena. As the gold had been affixed to the statue in such a manner that it could be removed, the accusers were challenged to substantiate their charge by weighing it, which they shrank from doing.
Another charge was then made against the sculptor of having introduced portraits of himself and Pericles in the bass reliefs of the shield representing the battle of the Amazons. As this act was supposed to imply a dishonor to the national religion, he was thrown into prison, where, according to Plutarch, he died. In addition to the works mentioned, Phidias executed statues of deities for Athens and other cities of Greece, including an acrolithic Athena at Platsea, and a famous chryselephantine AEsculapius at Epidaurus.