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Walter Runeberg: Cleobis and Biton, 1878. You may not use this photo for commercial purposes. © Photo: Helsinki Art Museum

Kleobis ja Biton / Cleobis and Biton

Artist Walter Runeberg

Kolmensepänaukio, Kluuvi, Helsinki

The Student Union was designed by Hampus Dahlström and completed in 1870. The frieze accentuating the building’s Neo-Classicism was designed by Walter Runeberg. Its draft was completed in Rome already in 1874 but it took considerable time to finish the work and cast it in cement. It was finally mounted in 1878.

The central group of the frieze depicts Cleobis and Biton pulling their mother along in a wagon. They are followed by a procession of priestesses on the left, carrying cult objects, and a small group of people and a some sacrificial lambs. On the right there are soldiers and citizens observing the procession. The text “SPEI SUAE – PATRIA DEDIT” (The land of the fathers gave to its youth) is divided into two sections by the piece.

The story of Cleobis and Biton is a classical myth of a boy’s love for his mother in which an old priestess wishes to travel to the temple of Argos during an Argival festival celebrating the goddess Hera whom the priestess had served before marrying. As the journey is too long for the old woman to travel by foot, she asks her sons to yoke two young white cows to a wagon. The brothers cannot find the cows, however, so they take the yoke themselves because they do not wish to disappoint their mother. At the temple the grateful mother prays for Hera, the protector of women, to bless the sons with the greatest possible gift. After the ceremonies she returns to the portal, where her boys had remained to rest, and finds them dead. The wife of Zeus and the goddess of marriage and child-birth had taken the boys in their sleep to paradise, to Eleusis, the place of eternal life and bliss.

The work doesn’t belong to the collections of the Helsinki Art Museum.

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