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p761 Metope

Article by Philip Smith, B.A., of the University of London
on pp761‑762 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

METOPA or METOPE (μετόπη), the name applied to each of the spaces between the triglyphs in the frieze of the Doric order, and by metonymy to the sculptured ornament with which those spaces were filled up. In the original significance of the parts the triglyphs represent the ends of the cross-beams or joists which rested on the architrave; the beds of these beams were called ὀπαί, and hence the spaces between them μετόπαι (Vitruv. IV.2 §4). Originally they p762were left open; next they were filled up with plain slabs, as in the propylaea at Eleusis, and many other buildings, and lastly, but still at an early period, they were adorned with sculptures either in low or high relief. The earliest existing examples of sculptured metopes are probably those of the middle temple on the acropolis of Selinus, which had metopes only on its east front, and in which the style of the sculptures is so rude as almost to remind one of some Mexican works of art. The date is probably between 620 and 580 B.C. The next in antiquity are those from the middle temple on the eastern side of the lower city of Selinus, in which there is a marked improvement, but which still belong to the archaic style. Their date is in the former half of the 5th century B.C. A still further progress may be observed in the metopes of the southern temple on the eastern hill, which belongs to the second half of the same century. In these the ground is tufa and the figures marble; the others are entirely of tufa. (See figures of the Selinuntine metopes in the Atlas zu Kugler's Kunstgeschichte, pt. II pl. 5 figs. 1‑4; comp. Müller, Archäol. d. Kunst, §90, n2). Thus these Selinuntine metopes, with the works of the epoch of perfect art, namely the metopes of the temple of Theseus and of the Parthenon, form an interesting series of illustrations of the progress of Grecian sculpture. The metopes from the Parthenon, now in the British Museum, are too well known to need description: but it is important to notice the marked difference in their style; some show evident traces of the archaic school, while others are worthy of the hand of Pheidias himself. In the later orders the metopes are not seen, the whole frieze being brought to one surface. This is the case even in some ancient specimens of the Doric order. (Comp. Columna, and the plates of the order in Mauch, Architekton. Ordnungen.)


[image ALT: A portion of a Doric frieze, with 5 triglyphs and the 4 metopes between them. From left to right, the 1st and 3d metopes are damaged and of uncertain subject; the 2d depicts a flower, and the 4th a circle encompassing a cross. The frieze is part of the Nicchioni, a Roman structure in Todi, Umbria (central Italy).]

Triglyphs and metopes on the Doric-revival frieze of a Roman structure in Todi, Italy.
(For further details, see that page.)


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Page updated: 28 Sep 12