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Zeus: what did he look like?

In Greek mythology, Zeus was the ruler and most-powerful of all the gods. As the ancient Greeks developed these stories, how would an artist decide how to portray an imaginary character? What kind of "look" would Zeus need in order to show his power and supreme importance? Artsology did an investigation to see how artists have portrayed Zeus over the centuries, and have found a variety of depictions below.


Zeus Greek red figure vase
Zeus is seen here as a dark-haired and bearded man on this Greek red figure vase, circa 450 BC
Zeus bronze sculpture from Cape Artemision
Zeus has a similar look here in this bronze sculpture from Cape Artemision, circa 460 BC
Zeus Roman marble bust
This Roman marble sculpture of Zeus gives him much longer hair.
Zeus sculpture at Nemrut Dagi in Turkey
Colossol sculpture of the head of Zeus, from Nemrut Dagi in Turkey
Zeus terracotta statuette
A very small terracotta statuette is very vague, but one can still make out the appearance of a beard
Zeus on a Greek coin
Zeus, as depicted on Greek currency from the 330's BC
Painting of Zeus, Hermes and the Virtue by Italian Renaissance painter Dosso Dossi
Here we see an unusual depiction of Zeus as an artist (at left), painting a picture of butterflies, as portrayed by Italian Renaissance artist Dosso Dossi, painted circa 1515
Thetis Appeals to Zeus, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1811
Thetis Appeals to Zeus, 1811, by the French neoclassical painter Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, shows a stern Zeus sitting on his throne
Our last entry here on our study of Zeus is actually not Zeus, but rather George Washington portrayed as Zeus! This sculpture was created by Horatio Greenough in 1841. The United States Congress commissioned Greenough to create a sculpture of Washington to honor the centennial of Washington's birth. However, Congress was not aware of how Washington was to be portrayed, so you can imagine their surprise when the sculpture was delivered and revealed as a muscular, shirtless Washington imitating the role of Zeus, ruler of the gods in Greek mythology! Washington is most-often seen in military uniform, so this depiction is quite unexpected.

Roman bronze statue of a seated ZeusThe bronze sculpture at right shows a seated Zeus in a pose that was often used by Greek and Roman sculptors, and gives an idea of where Greenough came up with his idea for his sculpture of Washington as Zeus.
Sculpture of George Washington portrayed as Zeus, by Horatio Greenough

Salvador Dali at Artsology Artsology offers free online games about the arts, and delivers investigations into topics in the visual arts, music, and literature. Artsology is a good resource for fun learning about the arts for people of all ages and is enjoyed by students, homeschoolers, and adults. Follow us on Twitter or become a fan of our Facebook page.Miles Davis at Artsology

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