Welcoming Caryatids


The Museum of Science and Industry

The Museum of Science and Industry, 1893


Erechtheion, Acropolis at Athens

Chicago at times recalls the pathway atop the Acropolis in Athens. The architecture of both the Field Museum and the Museum of Science & Industry directly reference the spectacular Erechtheion on the Acropolis. The Erechtheion is a sacred space just opposite the Parthenon adorned with a porch featuring caryatids, statues of maidens supporting the roof in place of columns. The caryatids are among the most arresting pieces on exhibit in the stunning Acropolis Museum in Athens.


Sanford Robinson Gifford, Ruins of The Parthenon, 1880

It is possible to get an idea of the way the caryatids of the Erechtheion caputured imaginations at the time of the design of what we now know as the Museum of Science and Industry, originaly constructed as the Palace of Fine Arts for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. American artist Sanford Robinson Gifford’s 1880 painting, “Ruins of The Parthenon,” now in the National Gallery in Washington D.C., focuses on the Parthenon but also includes the porch of the Erectheion at the far right of his composition.

Opened to the publc in 1921, the Field’s design includes four separate porches with caryatids. The caryatids at both the Field  and Science and Industry were sculpted by Henry Herig.


Field Museum, 1920

Caryatid detail, Field Museum.

Caryatid detail, Field Museum.

Perhaps these exterior sculptural groups visually asserted that the presence of women in the new public spaces (e.g., the World’s Fair, museums, parks) was appropriate and visually encouraged women to utilize these urban oases.  And perhaps that echoes the manner in which the Erectheion in Athens appears to celebrate the ritual activties that brought Greek maidens into public spaces during grand processions that culminated atop the Acropolis.

For more about the relation of Greek architecture and the caryatids to the design of  the Field Museum .

About caryatids at the  Museum of Science and Industry.

About the caryatids at the Acropolis Museum in Athens.

This New York Times article is about the high tech restoration of the caryatids in the Acropolis Museum and  includes a link to a short video.


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