Chryselephantine sculptures were made of wood with thin carved ivory slabs affixed to resemble the flesh, and gold leaf sheets portraying the clothing, armour, hair, and other elements. For details like as eyes, jewellery, and weaponry, glass paste, glass, and precious and semi-precious stones were employed in some circumstances.
The technique was most commonly utilised for cult statues within temples, which were usually larger than life-size. In times of severe financial distress, some of the gold may be withdrawn and melted for coin or bullion, only to be returned later when circumstances had improved.
The technique’s beginnings are unknown. There are known instances of composite sculptures made of ivory and gold from locations that became part of the Greek world dating from the 2nd millennium BC, most notably the so-called “Palaikastro Kouros” from Minoan Palaikastro, which are a separate form of statue from the Archaic Kouros statues. The only possible Minoan cult image for devotion in a shrine that has remained is from 1450 BC. However, it is unclear whether they are related to the Greek chryselephantine tradition. During the Archaic period, chryselephantine sculpture became popular. Later, acrolithitic statues with marble heads and extremities and a gilded or draped timber trunk were a similar method employed for religious images.
The two most well-known examples, both from the Classical period, are the 13-metre-high (43-foot) standing statue of Athena Parthenos in the Parthenon in Athens and the 12-metre-high (39-foot) seated statue of Zeus in the temple at Olympia, which is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The figure of Nike on Pheidias’ Athena Parthenos’ right hand, for example, was made of solid gold specifically for this purpose. Indeed, up to six solid gold Nikae were cast in prosperous times. acting as a “holy treasury” whose security was enhanced by the sanctity bestowed on a cult object, as well as the presence of priestesses, priests, and temple maintenance workers
Chryselephantine statues were designed to not only be physically impressive, but also to demonstrate the riches and cultural achievements of those who built or supported them. Sculpture, carpentry, jewellery, and ivory carving were all used in the production of this statue. The statues have to be maintained on a regular basis once they were finished. It is known that competent employees were engaged at Olympia to assure the statue’s upkeep. Damophon of Messene, a well-known sculptor, was commissioned to rebuild it in the second century BC.