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Onatas the Aeginetan
A Greek artist, the chief representative of the Aeginetan school
of sculpture in bronze, about B.C. 460. Besides statues of the gods, such as an
Apollo at Pergamon, admired for its size and execution, we hear of groups of his,
rich in figures, drawn either from the heroic epoch--as, for example, the ten
Greek heroes casting lots as to who should undertake the battle with Hector--or
from contemporary history, such as the votive offering of the Tarentines, containing
equestrian and pedestrian combatants, and consecrated at Delphi for their victory
over the barbarian Peucetians. He also executed a group representing Hiero of
Syracuse with the chariot in which he had been victorious at Olympia. His most
remarkable work was the bronze figure of the black Demeter, in a cavern thirty
stadia from Phigalea, in the southeast corner of Elis.
This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Nov 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
- A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology (ed. William Smith)
Onatas son of Mikon, of Aegina
Despite the fame of "Aeginetan bronze" (Pliny, N.H. 34.10), ancient
critics virtually ignored Aeginetan sculpture as such; only Pausanias was interested
in it, so that apart from a single Hellenistic epigram (Anth. Pal. 9.238) he is
our sole witness to the achievements of the foremost Aeginetan sculptor, Onatas.
8.42.1-8 The second mountain, Mt. Elaios, is about 30 stades from Phigaleia,
and has a cave sacred to Demeter surnamed Black ... [Pausanias then tells the
story of Poseidon's rape of Demeter and Persephone's abduction by Hades] ... As
a result, the Phigalians say, they accounted the cave sacred to Demeter, and set
up a wooden image in it. The image was made in the following fashion: it was seated
on a rock, and was like a woman in all respects save the head. She had the head
and hair of a horse, and serpents and other beasts grew out of her head. Her chiton
reached right to her feet, and she held a dolphin in one hand, a dove in the other.
Why they made the xoanon like this should be clear to any intelligent man who
is versed in tradition. They say they named her Black because the goddess wore
black clothing. However, they cannot remember who made this xoanon or how it caught
fire; but when it was destroyed the Phigalians gave no new image to the goddess
and largely neglected her festivals and sacrifices, until finally barrenness fell
upon the land ... [They then consulted Delphi, and were told that good times would
return only if they restored her former honors to her] ... So when they heard
the oracle that was brought back, they held Demeter in even higher honor than
before, and particularly they persuaded Onatas son of Mikon of Aegina to make
them an image of Demeter at any price he asked. The Pergamenes have a bronze Apollo
of his, which they marvel at both for its size and its art. This man, then, discovering
a picture or copy of the ancient xoanon --but guided for the most part (as it
is said) by a vision he saw in his dreams -- made a bronze image for the Phigalians
about a generation after the Persian invasion of Greece . My evidence for
the date is as follows: when Xerxes invaded Europe, Gelon son of Deinomenes was
tyrant of Syracuse and the rest of Sicily. When Gelon died  the rule passed
on to Hieron, his brother. But when Hieron died [467/66] before he could dedicate
to Olympian Zeus the offerings which he had vowed for his victories in the horse-races,
his son Deinomenes set them up on behalf of his father. These too are the works
of Onatas, and there are inscriptions at Olympia, of which the one over the offering
For his victories in your holy games, Olympian Zeus,
Once in the chariot-and-four, twice with the race-horse,
Hieron bestowed these gifts on you; but his son dedicated them,
Deinomenes, in memory of his Syracusan sire.
The other inscription is:
Onatas, son of Mikon, fashioned m Who has his home on Aegina's isle.
Onatas was contemporary with Hegias of Athens and Hageladas of Argos.
It was mainly to see this Demeter that I came to Phigaleia.
... But the image made by Onatas no longer existed in my time, and most of the
Phigalians were not aware that it had ever existed at all. The oldest of the inhabitants
I met said that three generations before his time some rocks had fallen on it
from the cave roof, crushing it and destroying it utterly. Indeed, I could still
see clearly the place in the roof where the rocks had broken away.
Pausanias' dating roughly coincides with the archaeological evidence:
a signed base from the Akropolis may belong to the Persian debris and predate
480, and his Achaean monument in Olympia lies below the temple fill and so should
be earlier than ca. 460. Unfortunately, however, landscaping done after the temple's
completion ca. 457 cannot be ruled out entirely.
Onatas worked exclusively in bronze:
- Chariot of Hieron I of Syracuse at Olympia (Paus. 8.42.8)
- Group of 9 heroes and Nestor, drawing lots to determine who should fight Hektor,
dedicated by the Achaeans at Olympia (Paus. 5,25.8)
- Hermes with a ram (kriophoros), dedicated by the Pheneans at Olympia
- Colossal Herakles dedicated by the Thasians at Olympia (Paus. 5.25.12)
- Dedication of Kephalos of Byzantion at Olympia
- Cavalry and infantry standing by Taras and Phalanthos bestriding the slain native
king Opis, dedicated by the Tarentines at Delphi
- Dedication of Timarchos on the Akropolis
- Apollo, later at Pergamon (Paus. 8.42.7)
A mutilated signature from Pergamon, Pergamon 8.1, no. 48, may come
from the base of no. 9. Parts of the base of no. 3 also survive, and fit Pausanias'
5.25.8 There are also offerings dedicated by the whole Achaean race in
common: they represent those who, when Hektor challenged any Greek to meet him
in single combat, dared to await the outcome of the lot. They stand near the great
temple armed with spears and shields. Right opposite, Nestor stands on another
base, casting the lot of each into the helmet. Those who are drawing lots to meet
Hektor are now only eight in number -- for the ninth, the statue of Odysseus,
was carried off to Rome, they say, by Nero -- and of the eight remaining only
Agamemnon's has his name inscribed below: the inscription runs, moreover, from
right to left. The figure with the cock emblazoned on his shield is Idomeneus
the descendant of Minos: they say that Idomeneus was descended from Helios the
father of Pasiphae, and that the cock is sacred to Helios and announces when he
is about to rise. An inscription is written on the pedestal:
These images were dedicated to Zeus by the Achaeans,
Descendants of Pelops, the godlike Tantalid.
This is written on the pedestal, but the sculptor's signature is written on Idomeneus's shield:
This is one of the many works of clever Onatas, Whom Mikon begat in Aegina.
In this epigram Onatas calls himself sophos, "clever", in the tradition
of Phaidimos and other archaic sculptors (cf. Stewart 1990, 68); yet this self-assertiveness
did not prevent him from collaborating with others on at least three of the monuments
listed above: with Kalamis on no. 2 (Paus. 6.12.1; cf. T 2-3), Kalliteles on no.
4, and Kalynthos(?) on no. 7. Our only information concerning his style comes
once again from Pausanias:
5.25.12 The Thasians ... dedicated a Herakles at Olympia, the base as
well as the image being of bronze. The image is ten cubits [15 feet] high, and
has a club in his right hand and a bow in his left... On this dedication by the
Thasians at Olympia is an elegiac couplet:
Onatas, son of Mikon, fashioned me
He who has his home on Aegina.
This Onatas, though his sculptural style is Aeginetan, I shall place second to
none of the pupils of Daidalos and the Attic school.
Yet this essentially unhelpful remark has not inhibited attributions,
which fall into five more-or-less mutually exclusive groups, as follows: (a) the
Artemision Zeus (Athens, NM Br. 15161), "Omphalos" Apollo (Athens, NM 45; Munich
GL 265), Aegina sphinx, "Aspasia"/Europa, and Corinth/Mocenigo goddess (London
209) (cf. Stewart 1990, figs. 285-88); (b) an Athena head from Aegina in the Louvre
and the Delphi charioteer (Delphi 3520; cf. Stewart 1990, figs. 301-02); (c) Aegina
East Pediment 2 (cf. Stewart 1990, fig. 245-53) and a bronze head from the Akropolis
(Athens, NM 6446, cf. Stewart 1990, fig. 249); (d) a Herakles in Cherchel, a small
bronze Hermes kriophoros in Paris, a bearded head on the Akropolis, and three
warriors in Mariemont and Rome -- all copies; and (e) the Riace bronzes (Stewart
1990, figs. 292-96). Others give (a) to Kalamis, (c) to Kalon, and (e) to Pheidias,
which suggests that though some connection with Aegina is apparent in each case,
to choose between them is hopelessly arbitrary.
This extract is from: Andrew Stewart, One Hundred Greek Sculptors: Their Careers and Extant Works. Cited June 2004 from
Perseus Project URL below, which contains extracts from the ancient literature, bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.