Juan de Lara (UCL) - 2019-20 Students

Experiencing the Divine: Lighting strategies and temple illumination in Bassae, Olympia and Athens

The research proposed aims to use digital technology (CG and photogrammetry) to analyse a selection of Classical Greek temples and recreate the ambient and architectural conditions present in their original design. It will explore the visual interplay between sunlight, lamplight, reflectant pools of oil/water, smoke and metallic surfaces within three key Greek temples: Apollo at Bassae, the Parthenon in Athens and of Zeus at Olympia—all well known for the deliberate optical strategies in their designs, and which shared the presence of Iktinos or Phidias in their construction. This doctoral thesis will develop a new widely transferable methodology for analysing complex-built spaces and produce substantial results relevant to Classical archaeologists and art historians, particularly regarding the architectural framing and interior lighting of temples. Tanner, amongst others, identified ways in which light was manipulated in Classical Greek temple architecture in order to enhance the ritual encounter of the viewer with the divine. The placement of windows, doors, or polished floors were devices used to alter the sensorial perception of the cult statue, and altogether helped to dramatise the sacredness of the temple interior. Iktinos’ temples of Bassae and the Parthenon share the existence of windows or side doors, noted as presumable sources of light to stage the god’s image. Moreover, both buildings feature decorated narrative friezes of high quality, placed in shadowed areas. What sort of lighting conditions would have facilitated their reading? At Bassae, a hypaethral cella or pierced roofs have been proposed for such purpose, but would direct light that entered from the doors be enough to illuminate this space? If lamps were needed, what would have been their type and number? And in this case how was smoke controlled within interior spaces? Other innovations such a water pool in the Parthenon, a characteristic also present in the temple of Zeus at Olympia, may have acted as directional and reflecting devices to enhance and reveal the gleam and shine of the surrounding space. Are some authors’ claims of translucent ceilings for these temples still sustainable? What would have been the results of such combinations? The ruinous state of most temples hinders the understanding and analysis of light phenomena. To answer these questions, CG technology allows us to replicate the interactions between diverse materials, artificial light and sunlight. CG has become increasingly important in the field of traditional archaeology due to their capacity to address certain analytical difficulties that would otherwise demand enormous time and resources. Therefore, the investigative strategy for this project proposes these stages:

1) The creation of preliminary low-resolution models using extensive surveys and available data to explore different hypothetical reconstructions. Here advanced lighting calculations can then be applied to test the viability of each model. This simulation, known as radiosity, is used to determine a direct light source and compute all the other surfaces reflecting light in a scene. These effects are calculated with real time physics that allows the reproduction of the sun’s arc at a particular longitude and latitude, throughout a yearly cycle.

2) Study of the behaviour of light through these low-resolution models to identify their viability when checked against the evidence presented in the body of text.

3) Implementation of a fully-textured model to reproduce ambient conditions and allow hyper-real understanding of the working space. Looking into the behaviour of light across a complex space will help us to prove or disprove existing archaeoastronomical claims and elucidate architectural strategies and innovations.

It also looks to provide a wider insight of the ritual and religious beliefs linked to architecture of the fifth century BC, in a way that is transferable to a larger context of Mediterranean religions.

Back to the top