The Painting Program in the Stoa Poikile
Date of this version
Reconstructions of the original painting program of the Stoa Poikile in Athens have varied widely. Of the four paintings mentioned by Pausanias, one, the Battle of Oinoë, has been subject to much discussion since he is the only testimony to such a battle. Relying solely on literary evidence, some reconstructions have stated that this painting is a later addition to the Stoa (e.g., Meiggs, Wycherley, Jeffries with reintrepretation of subject), since its stated anti-Spartan theme would contradict the policies of Kimon, whose brother-in-law sponsored the construction of the building. Other reconstructions have sought to reinterpret the subject to make it consistent with the other three paintings of the Stoa (Francis and Vickers, Castriota). A re-examination of the literary evidence, combined with considerations of scale and size of the excavated remains of the Stoa and of reconstructions of the paintings in the Stoa and the Lesche at Delphi provide a new means for resolving the questions about the Stoa’s original painting program.
In beginning his description of the second painting showing the Amazonomachy, Pausanias states that it is in the middle of the walls (on the center wall) of the Stoa. He also indicates that the following paintings of the Iliupersis and the Battle of Marathon belong on and complete the same wall. This strongly suggests that the first painting, the Battle of Oinoë, was on a side wall, with Spartan trophies on the opposite short wall. This arrangement is confirmed by a consideration of the dimensions of the building and the paintings. The Stoa has been reconstructed with eight bays, each about 4 meters wide. The middle section of the Polygnotan painting of the Iliupersis in the Lesche at Delphi, which most scholars accept as closely related to the Stoa Iliupersis (Castriota and earlier), occupied a wall 7.8 meters wide, comfortably fitting two bays of the Stoa. The compositional proportions of painted Amazonomachies on contemporary vases thought to be related to the Stoa painting, given a similar figure scale to the Iliupersis painting, also suggest a monumental painting 7-8 meters wide and 2-2.5 meters high that would fill two bay of the Stoa. The Battle of Marathon, as reconstructed by Harrison, was significantly larger than the others with three distinct sections, and would easily fill the remaining four bays of the Stoa at a similar scale.
This reconstruction would leave no room for the Battle of Oinoë on the back wall, as Francis and Vickers conjecture. Given its marked asymmetry as part of the building’s program and the pendant arrangement of the Spartan trophies, it is likely that the painting is a later addition to the Stoa, perhaps a result of a change in Athenian policy and the wars with Sparta, possibly as early as the 450s during Kimon’s exile, and likely by the 420s, the date of the Spartan trophies in the Stoa.
Periklean Athens and its legacy: problems and perspectives