The frieze is a replica of the entire Parthenon frieze, now on display at the British Museum. Photo courtesy Newcastle University
A Northumberland decorator who inadvertently discovered a replica of a frieze from the Parthenon in Athens while refurbishing a local pub has donated his find to a local museum.
John Stephenson had been working at the Old Three Horse Shoes pub in East Hartford in the early 1990s and discovered a bronze-coloured panel behind a piece of hardwood over the mantelpiece.
The pub’s owner let Mr Stephenson keep the panel, which measures 46cm by 132cm and shows six rows of figures in relief, and recently decided to have it identified. It is made of a resin covered by a thin layer of coppery alloy.
“I’ve kept it under the bed, but I’ve always wanted to know what it might be,” said Mr Stephenson. “I thought that some of them might be Spanish soldiers, because some of them seem to be wearing wide-brimmed hats.”
Mr Stephenson contacted Rob Collins, a Finds Liaison Officer with the Portable Antiquities Scheme based at Newcastle University, who showed it to staff at the university’s museum.
The original frieze was taken from Athens to London between 1801-1805. Photo courtesy Newcastle University
Lindsay Allason-Jones, Director of Archaeological Museums, recognised the panel as a replica of the famous Parthenon frieze. Most of the original is now kept at the British Museum and is part of the collection known as the Elgin Marbles.
Rob’s research revealed that in the early 19th century a sculptor called John Henning and his son, also called John, were commissioned to carve a scale replica of the Parthenon frieze for the exterior of London’s exclusive Athenaeum Club.
The friezes had been brought to Britain from Athens between 1801 and 1805 and were on public display at the British Museum from 1816.
“Classical artefacts were incredibly fashionable among the upper classes in the Victorian and Georgian era, when the trend of undertaking the Grand Tour was at its height,” explained Rob. “They regarded collecting quantities of souvenirs and other reminders of the trip as a sign that they were very cultured individuals.”
Others were quick to copy Henning’s original work by making a mould of the slate and casting copies.
Lindsay Allason-Jones, Director of Archaological Museums at Newcastle University, identified the replica frieze. Photo courtesy Newcastle University
“So in fact, while not especially rare, this find may be a very interesting relic of the Victorian fascination with antiquity, or indeed it may be a much later copy,” said Rob. “What is even more interesting, however, is how it came to be set into the wall of a pub in the north east of England.”
The Parthenon itself was a temple to the Greek goddess Athena and is thought to have been completed around 432 BC. Its frieze depicts a procession of horsemen, water carriers and people leading sacrificial bulls, with seated figures representing the gods at the front.
Mr Stephenson has donated his find to the university’s Shefton Museum of Greek and Etruscan Art and Archaeology.
“Because Mr Stephenson’s find is a replica of the entire Parthenon frieze, it will be very useful for us when we are teaching about ancient Greek civilisation,” said Lindsay.