A sculpture of ivory plates and gold panels over a wooden framework, it represented the god Zeus sitting on an elaborate cedar wood throne ornamented with ebony, ivory, gold and precious stones. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it was lost and destroyed during the 5th century AD with no copy ever being found, and details of its form are known only from ancient Greek descriptions and representations on coins.
The statue of Zeus was commissioned by the Eleans, custodians of the Olympic Games, in the latter half of the fifth century BC for their recently constructed Temple of Zeus. Seeking to outdo their Athenian rivals, the Eleans employed the renowned sculptor Phidias, who had previously made the massive statue of Athena Parthenos in the Parthenon.
The great seated statue as fashioned by Phidias occupied half the width of the aisle of the temple built to house it. "It seems that if Zeus were to stand up," the geographer Strabo noted early in the 1st century BC, "he would unroof the temple." The Zeus was a chryselephantine sculpture, made with ivory and gold panels on a wooden substructure. No copy in marble or bronze has survived, though there are recognizable but only approximate versions on coins of nearby Elis and on Roman coins and engraved gems.
In the 2nd century AD, the geographer and traveler Pausanias gave a detailed description. The statue was crowned with a sculpted wreath of olive sprays, and wore a gilded robe made from glass and carved with animals and lilies. In its right hand was a small chryselephantine statue of crowned Nike, goddess of victory. Its left hand held a scepter inlaid with many metals, supporting an eagle. The throne featured painted figures and wrought images and was decorated in gold, precious stones, ebony, and ivory. Zeus' golden sandals rested upon a footstool decorated with an Amazonomachy in relief. The passage underneath the throne was restricted by painted screens.