The Gorham Stevens Plaster Model of the Athenian Acropolis

Gorham Stevens’s model of the Athenian Acropolis (Stevens 1946b, Fig. 2).

It’s a curious and intriguing thought that at the height of World War II, the architect Gorham P. Stevens, then in residence as acting director of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, busied himself with designing and making a plaster model of the Athenian Acropolis as it would have appeared in the first century BC. In spite of the many obstacles and dangers of the war in addition to the spiralling cost of the project (ultimately some $1700), Stevens managed after three years to complete the model in 1944, with the assistance of a skilled, unnamed plasterer. He presented the model in several papers in subsequent years and described on at least one occasion the difficult birth of the model: “there are many anxious moments in store for those who would sponsor the production of a model in the middle of a war” (Stevens 1946a, 558).

Stevens’s reconstruction of the view east of the Propylaia (from Stevens 1940, Fig. 2).

Prior to making his model, Stevens had published a number of seminal papers on the open spaces and “peripheral” areas of the Athenian Acropolis, such as the Periclean “entrance court” in front of the Propylaia and the votive monuments on the steps west of the Parthenon (Stevens 1936; 1940; see now Valavanis et al. 2021). These papers make good use of his magnificent drawings that illustrate different views, perspectives and sightlines of the monuments on the Acropolis. These drawings were also the basis for the later model (a good example is Stevens 1946c, 74, Fig. 1). The model itself offered many new opportunities to explore and play around with the architecture and landscape of the Acropolis and how individual temples, statue groups and votive monuments fit together and were experienced by people in the past. These issues occupied Stevens for the rest of his life, as seen for example in his later discussion of the “framing” of the Parthenon from below the Acropolis (Stevens 1962, and later expanded with i.a. digital means by Martin-Mcauliffe & Papadopoulos 2012).

Plaster work in progress for the model (source: Stevens 1946a, pl. XXVIII, Fig. 2)

In his own presentation of the Acropolis plaster model, Stevens weighed in with some highly practical considerations on the pros and cons of using it for educational purposes. While “there is hardly a better way of stimulating interest in the history of architecture than by means of the model…it should be small enough to be carried through the lecture room door” (Stevens 1946b, 558). Although Stevens intended to donate the model to the Acropolis Museum (then situated on the Acropolis itself), it now resides in the reconstructed Stoa of Attalos on the Athenian Agora.

It is today perhaps too easy to treat Stevens’s work and his model as only remotely useful and akin to other well-known archaeological eccentricities, or as belonging to the fundamental but highly positivistic tradition of “Bauforschung” where a scholarly-based reconstruction typically is the final conclusion of any study. We can also object to the use of white plaster to provide a seemingly “neutral” and “scientific” finish to the reconstruction. The context immediately after the war in Greece is even darker. As discussed by Yannis Hamilakis, prisoners in Greek concentration camps were then forced to make their own models of the Parthenon before they could re-enter society as civilised archeo-bodies (to borrow a phrase from Dimitris Plantzos).

But I believe that there is reason to be more upbeat and positive about Stevens’s model. I have previously discussed the different uses of reconstruction models in classical archaeology across a range of media, such as cork and wood, and especially how they feed into the intellectual trajectory of the Danish archaeologist Kristian Jeppesen and his work on the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. However, these other models typically depict monuments in splendid isolation. The innovation of Stevens’s model was to represent the full archaeological landscape and the connective spaces between individual buildings (and to use it as a basis for thinking about these issues in much more detail). As such, the model paved the way for entirely new perspectives on Greek architecture: those of space, experience and movement. It is also an important predecessor to modern 3D models of the Acropolis and their attempts to capture its appearance in different time periods – and even more directly, to the prominent use of architectural models in the current Acropolis Museum where they greet visitors in the lobby.

Model of the classical Athenian Acropolis currently on display in the Acropolis Museum (photo: TMK).


Mammelis, C.P. 1950. Model of the Athenian Acropolis as it Appeared Towards the End of the First Century Before Christ. Unknown publisher.
Martin-Mcauliffe, S.L. & J. Papadopoulos. 2012. “Framing Victory: Salamis, the Athenian Acropolis, and the Agora.” JSAH 71.3, 332-361.
Stevens, G.P. 1936. “Periclean Entrance Court to Akropolis.” Hesperia 5, 443-520.
Stevens, G.P. 1940. The Setting of the Periclean Parthenon. Hesperia Supplement no. 2. Princeton, NJ: American School of Classical Studies.
Stevens, G.P. 1946a. “Plaster Model of the Athenian Acropolis: Restoration at the End of the First Century B.C.” BCH 70, 557-559.
Stevens, G.P. 1946b. “The Northeast Corner of the Parthenon.” Hesperia 15, 1-26.
Stevens, G.P. 1946c. “Architectural Studies Concerning the Acropolis of Athens.” Hesperia 15.2, 73-106.
Stevens, G.P. 1962. “Concerning the Impressiveness of the Parthenon.” AJA 66.3, 337-338.
Valavanis, P. et al. 2021. “Managing the Open-air Sacred Space on the Athenian Acropolis”, in J. Neils and O. Palagia (eds.) From Kallas to Kritias. Art in Athens in the Second Half of the Fifth Century B.C., 11-30. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Odin and Pallas Athene in Copenhagen

“Stormbroen” with reliefs of Odin and Pallas Athena, Copenhagen, 1902, source.

The highly influential architect Martin Nyrop (1849-1921) completed a renovation project of Copenhagen’s “Stormbroen” in 1918. However, already sixteen years later he had come up with a new design for the bridge that was “prototyped” but never finished. This design included two relief sculptures, one depicting the Norse god Odin, the other Pallas Athena, juxtaposing the Nordic and the Classical in a very prominent public space that is highly revealing of the cultural politics of late 19th-century Denmark (and that we discuss in this little book). The reliefs were conceived in collaboration with the artist Niels Skovgaard (1858-1938). Opponents of the plan argued that the relief negatively affected the view towards Thorvaldsens Museum. Fortunately, Nyrop’s design survives in a photograph now in the Copenhagen City Archives and was discussed in Illustreret Tidende, 23 February 1902. This includes a wonderful charaterisation of Nyrop: “His head is teeming with ideas, some of which are splendid, others a little too bizarre” (“Ideerne myldrer ud af hans Hjærne, mange fortræffelige, enkelte lidt for bizarre.”)

Frederik Poulsen on English Aristocrats

Frederik Poulsen visited numerous English manor houses while working on his Greek and Roman Portraits in English Country Houses (1929) and scouting works to purchase for the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. He describes these visits in a more informal fashion in several of his works, including in a brief account entitled “Engelske Aristokrater” (English Aristocrats), published in Vi vandrer: Rejseskildringer og skitser (1926).

The Pantheon of Ince Blundell Hall, one of the manor houses visited by Poulsen.

He had scathing things to say about the state of the English aristocracy, whose interests he claimed were limited to hunting, sports and politics. In one passage (p. 47, in my translation below), he employs classical topoi of decline and contemporary European idealisations of the Roman aristocracy. While “small garden temple” hardly fits the Ince Blundell pantheon, the description of a partly deconstructed collection resonates with other accounts of its state in the early 20th century.

Unlike when I was on a summer tour of manor houses on Funen, where the owners both knew and loved their possessions and always showed me their interiors, paintings and porcelain…the English lords completely lacked insight into the artworks of their palaces. At a palace in western England, masterpieces of old Flemish and Italian art were hung alongside fakes (“Fuskerarbejder”) from the 19th century, and inside a small garden temple, development had completely ceased in 1837, the year when the former owner died. The niches stood empty, while on the floor stood statues and busts crammed together with beams and tubs and boxes that were yet to be unpacked. In one box I glimpsed a cast of the Parthenon frieze beneath the decaying, century-old straw. Leaves and earth had flown in and covered artworks whose market value was at least 1 million Danish Kroner. In here I felt the contrast between the ruling classes of ancient Rome and contemporary England that otherwise display so many similarities. A Caesar and a Cicero went into politics, ennobled by the best culture of the time and as connaisseurs of science, poetry and culture. They were aristocrats of the mind (“Aandsaristokrater”), whose conversations were about studies and books. But the English lords were not friends of the Muses. Even when they collected, their taste was poor, and only chance encounters and bulk-buys (in Danish, this is an alliteration: “Slumpetræf og Storkøb”) led precious works to their palaces.

The Ephesian Artemis in early 19th-c. Denmark

“Philosophien” (1800), by Nicolai Abildgaard, SMK.

I previously noted the tomb of P.C. Abildgaard that was erected in 1801 in Copenhagen’s Assistens Kirkegård. A prominent relief on this tomb depicts the Ephesian Artemis, looking somewhat out of place in a Danish cemetery.

Yet the motif was certainly chosen for this context because of the powerful meaning it had acquired since the 17th century as a symbol of rational thought and natural science. Nicolai Abildgaard, P.C.’s brother who designed his tomb, also showcased the Ephesian Artemis in his allegorical painting of “Philosophy” (1800), seen above.

Right around the same time, the Danish artist Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844) produced a version of the same motif with Apollo unveiling a statue of the Ephesian Artemis for the frontispiece of Alexander von Humboldt’s Ideen zu einer Geographie der Pflanzen nebst ein Naturgemälde der Tropenlander (first published in French in 1805), one of the outcomes of his Latin American expedition. As expressed by Alexander von Humboldt in a letter to Goethe, the image of Apollo and the Ephesian Artemis “refers to the synthesis of Poetry, Philosophy and Natural sciences” (cited from Tevebring 2012, 153).

Frontispiece to Alexander von Humboldt’s Ideen zu einer Geographie der Pflanzen nebst ein Naturgemälde der Tropenlander (1807), based on a Thorvaldsen drawing and dedicated to Goethe.

Some reflections on the Abildgaard tombs in Assistens Kirkegård and their iconography can be found in Midt i verden i 250 år – Assistens 1760-2010 (Copenhagen 2010), pp. 56-58. On Bertel Thorvaldsen, Alexander von Humboldt and the motif of Apollo and the Ephesian Artemis, see Frederika Tevebring, “Unveiling the Goddess. Artemis of Ephesus as a Symbol of Nature at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century”, Lychnos 2012, 153-166. See also Marjatta Nielsen’s “Diana Efesis Multimammia: The Metamorphoses of a Pagan Goddess from the Renaissance to the Age of Neo-Classicism”, in T. Fischer-Hansen and B. Poulsen (eds.) From Artemis to Diana: The Goddess of Man and Beast (Copenhagen 2009), pp. 455-496.

The Classical Imagination of a Small Town: Aarhus 1909

I have been working on the geographies of classicism – especially the receptions of classical heritage in the context of Aarhus, a provincial, small Danish town that saw its fortune grow considerably from the late 19th century onwards. Around the turn of the century, the city’s architects occasionally (and sometimes quite fleetingly) looked back to classical paradigms to manifest its new identity and status as an industrial and cultural powerhouse worthy of the title of “capital of Jutland”.

The “Nordre Kirkegård Mausoleum” is one (largely forgotten) manifestation of this process, but I have also been looking to other, more well-known cases. Among these, the National Exhibition (“Landsudstillingen“) in 1909 is very important, even if its ephemeral nature also means that it takes some effort to imagine the impact that it once had.

The 1909 National Exhibition opened on 18 May. When it closed again on 3 October, it had been visited by 667.000 people, close to a third of the total Danish population of the time. Like many other exhibitions of this kind, it was designed to merge different points in time: the past (through the display of a prehistoric stone dolmen and monuments to civic heritage, such as “Borgmestergården“, the 16th century mayor’s mansion that later became the first house in the Old Town Museum), the present (through the display of contemporary goods – beer! sausages! – and carefully curated views of the city’s chimneys) and the future (through the demonstration of new technologies – electricity! airplanes! – and dreams of local and national grandeur).

Which specific elements from classical antiquity did the architects of the National Exhibition choose? The first image shows the “Tuborg Triumphal Arch” (advertising Tuborg beer). In the second, we see the temple-like main hall (viewed through the entrance gates), its pediment decorated with a painting by Valdemar Andersen that shows men of crafts and industry. The third shows the “Carlsberg Column” (another beer advertisement!) and a reflection pool. All of these monuments were constructed on a wooden frame and taken down after the exhibition ended. Images are taken from

This was, of course, by no means an innocent moment in Aarhus’ (or Danish) history. The most popular parts of the National Exhibition focused on ethnography and demonstrate the contemporary colonial imagination in full effect. One part focused on the life of Greenland’s indigenous population (and the history of Danish exploration in the Arctic). Another was an “Abyssinian village”, populated by 80 Ethiopians that had been transported to Aarhus from a Hamburg zoo (Tierpark Hagenbeck, still operating today).

Even if is written primarily from the perspective of local history, Johan Bender has written a nice and very beautifully illustrated book about the National Exhibition: Hurra for Århus: Landsudstillingen 1909 – vejene til og sporene fra (Aarhus 2008). Specifically on classical architecture in the National Exhibition, there are a few remarks in the introduction to Vinnie Nørskov (ed.), Antikken i Århus (Aarhus 2008), pp. 19-21.

“The gate which Iskander built will be torn open”: Classical Antiquity and Heavy Metal

The other course I’m (co-)teaching this semester is very loosely based on our Classical Heritage and European Identities volume and aims to put a critical, contemporary perspective on the uses of classical heritage and to place them within the wider “democratic turn” in reception studies.

Yesterday we had some fun in the (virtual) classroom with Christian (Djurslev) joining us to talk about “Mediterranean Metal”, receptions of classical heritage in heavy metal music, from Iron Maiden to A Sound of Thunder. It was an excellent introduction to the genre and it was fascinating (even if also fairly troubling) to look into the Christian/Western origin story of Iron Maiden’s “Alexander the Great” in the mid-1980s and the complex interplay between Egyptian, classical and Islamic heritages in Nile’s more recent “Iskander Dhul Karnon”. We even briefly touched on neo-paganism and Islamic counter-culture.

For more on all of this, Christian pointed us to this recent edited volume and his own paper in the inaugural issue of Metal Music Studies. Here are the songs that he had picked for us to discuss in class:

Iron Maiden, “Alexander the Great” (1986).
Nile, “Iskander D’hul Kharnon” (2009).
A Sound of Thunder, “Tomyris” (2018).

More Maussollomania

Sir Christopher Wren, St Paul's Cathedral, London:  longitudinal section of the Great Model
Architectural drawing of the St Paul’s Cathedral model, c. 1725 (source: Royal Academy).

I’m still digging through the layers of different Maussolleion reconstructions. Christopher Wren’s original designs for St Paul’s Cathedral (planned from 1668 onwards but not finished until 1710) included a Maussolleion-inspired lantern that is of great importance in this context. Although never realised, the designs are recorded on both paper (above) and in 3D in the “Great Model” (below). These later inspired Wren’s pupil, Nicholas Hawksmoor, for St George’s Church in Bloomsbury. See also the beautiful new book by Vaughan Hart, Christopher Wren. In Search of Eastern Antiquity (New Haven 2020), that covers the dialogue between architecture and archaeology in the time of the “Wren Office”.

Inside The Model Of St Paul's | Spitalfields Life
The “Maussolleion” lantern for St Paul’s Cathedral (source: Spitalfields Life).

Maussolleion Reconstructions: From Dinsmoor to Dali

I have been thinking a little about where Kühnel got his inspiration to use the “Maussolleion of Halikarnassos” as the model for his crematorium in Nordre Kirkegård.

The American architect William B. Dinsmoor (1886-1973) published two papers on the Maussolleion in the 1908 volume of American Journal of Archaeology, from which the above reconstruction is taken. Ultimately, I think it’s unlikely that Kühnel was up to date on such archaeological reconstructions. On the other hand, Dinsmoor’s arrangement with the equestrian statue, steps, lions and cypresses seems to have been a direct inspiration to Salvador Dali almost fifty years later.

Dali, Le mausolée d’Halicarnasse (1955)

More of Dinsmoor’s Maussolleion:

Open Access News: Ephesus and Millennium-Studien

Ephesian Embolos
Embolos, Ephesos (photo: TMK, July 2011).

The Forschungen in Ephesus volumes that publish the results of the ÖAI excavations at Ephesus are notoriously unwieldy but also uniquely valuable and important. For these reasons, it is excellent to see the news that ALL of them are now available online in open access. And unlike a lot of other e-books, they seem easy to navigate and have full-text OCR for searching.

This news follows the announcement earlier this month that the 85 and growing volumes of De Gruyter’s Millennium-Studien will also become open access over the course of the next couple of years.