The west pediment faced the Propylaia and depicted the contest between Athena and Poseidon during their competition for the honor of becoming the city’s patron. Athena and Poseidon appear at the center of the composition, diverging from one another in strong diagonal forms with the goddess holding the olive tree and the god of the sea raising his trident to strike the earth. At their flanks they are framed by two active groups of horses pulling chariots, while a crowd of legendary personalities from Athenian mythology fills the space out to the acute corners of the pediment.
The sculptures of the Parthenon pediments are some of the finest examples of classical Greek art. The figures are sculpted in natural movement with bodies full of vital energy that bursts through their flesh, as the flesh in turn bursts through their thin clothing. The thin chitons allow the body underneath to be revealed as the focus of the composition. The distinction between gods and humans is blurred in the conceptual interplay between the idealism and naturalism bestowed on the stone by the sculptors.
The sculptures were finished all around even though parts of them were placed against the back wall of the pediment never to be seen. Finishing the figures even in areas unseen was a necessary task in order to ensure the high degree of realism that the artists were aiming at. It would be extremely difficult to sculpt the front without the accurate reference of the back. It is also possible that the statues were exhibited freestanding before they were hoisted 16 meters above ground and placed at the pediment.
The overall character of the pediment sculptures was very energetic as the figures were placed in a dense arrangement with many overlapping bodies and limbs. As a result, the negative space between the figures acquired a complexity analogous to the one found on the statues themselves, while glimpses of the flat background, which would allow the eyes to rest, were minimized. The space beyond the building was pulled into the pediment composition cleverly as the figures often reached out beyond the imaginary plane of the temple’s façade.
Also see: The Parthenon's East Pediment