Roman Art Architecture Analysis

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Roman Art Architecture Analysis

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Roman Art History from Goodbye-Art Academy

X-ray fluorescence can identify the pigments in paint or the composition of metals by their chemical profiles. Dendrochronology can establish the earliest date a wooden object could have been made based on tree ring growth patterns. Analysis of materials and techniques using methods such as these can help art historians answer questions about when, where, how, or by whom, a work was made.

Most art is visually compelling. While materials and technique determine the range of what is possible, the final appearance of a work is the product of numerous additional choices made by the artist. An artist painting a portrait of a woman in oil on canvas must decide on the size and shape of the canvas, the scale of the woman and where to place her, and the types of forms, lines, colors, and brushstrokes to use in representing the sitter and her surroundings. In a compelling work of art, myriad variables such as these and others come together to create an engaging visual experience. Art historians use visual analysis to describe and understand this experience.

Often called formal analysis because it focuses on form rather than subject matter or historical context, this typically consists of two parts: description of the visual features of a work and analysis of their effects. To describe visual properties systematically, art historians rely on an established set of terms and concepts. These include characteristics such as format, scale, composition, and viewpoint; treatment of the human figure and space; and the use of form, line, color, light, and texture. In describing visual qualities, formal analysis usually identifies certain features as contributing to the overall impression of the work.

For example, a prominent linear form might suggest strength if straight and vertical, grace or sensuality if sinuous, or stability and calm if long and horizontal. Sharp contrasts in light and dark may make an image feel bold and dramatic whereas subdued lighting might suggest gentleness or intimacy. In the past, formal analysis assumed there was some elementary level of universality in the human response to visual form and tried to describe these effects.

Today, the method is understood as more subjective, but still valued as a critical exercise and means of analyzing visual experience, especially in introductory art history courses. Jacques-Louis David, Oath of the Horatii , , oil on canvas, 3. Formal analysis is a powerful tool for appreciating art. Armed with it, you can analyze any work based simply on the experience of looking at it. But the method is also important for understanding art in its historical context. This is because the visual properties of works made by an individual artist or, more generally, by artists working in the same time and place, typically have common features.

Art historians call these shared characteristics style. Style varies by time and place, so like medium and technique, it can be used to determine the origin of a work of art. Because of its complexity, style is a far more specific indicator than materials and technique alone. Early art historians used stylistic analysis to categorize the vast legacy of undocumented art, assigning works to cultures, artistic circles, or individual artists based on their formal qualities. Today, stylistic analysis continues to be used to establish origins when unknown works are discovered or previous attributions revised. In addition to helping categorize individual works, style has shaped the narratives told by art historians in fundamental ways.

Until the midth century, most histories of art focused on tracing stylistic development and change. As a result, many of the period divisions traditionally used for Western art are based on style. Today style is only one of many aspects of art that interest art historians, but the power of tradition has ensured that style-based period divisions and labels remain widely used. Likewise, familiarity with the style of specific periods, places, and artists is still considered fundamental art historical knowledge and often remains the focus of introductory art history textbooks and courses. While understanding the physical properties and visual experience of art are important, today most art historical research focuses on the significance of works as cultural artifacts.

This category of analysis is characterized by a variety of approaches, but all share the basic objective of examining art in relation to its historical context. Most often, this is the time and place in which a work was created—typically we want to know why and by whom it was made and how it originally functioned. One of the most basic types of contextual analysis is the interpretation of subject matter. Much art is representational i. Art historians call the subject matter of images iconography. Iconographic analysis is the interpretation of its meaning.

In many cases, such as an image of the crucified Christ or seated Buddha, identifying the subject presents few problems. When the iconography is obscure or treated in an unusual way, art historians try to understand it by studying the historical context in which the image was made, typically through comparison with texts and other imagery from the time. With challenging images, scholars may disagree on which contextual materials are relevant, resulting in conflicting interpretations.

For many complex or enigmatic works, the meanings of the subject matter continue to be debated and reinterpreted today. Another common aspect of art investigated through contextual analysis is function. Historically, many works of art and nearly all architecture were intended to serve some purpose beyond the aesthetic. Understanding function is crucial because it usually plays a role in determining many features, including iconography, materials, format, and aspects of style. At the most basic level, art historians analyze function by identifying types—an altarpiece, portrait, Book of Hours, tomb, palace, etc. Sackler Museum statue of the Emperor Trajan. A coin from the reign of Valens in the middle of the fourth century exemplifies the continuity of this formula.

Along with the cuirass, a common characteristic of this portrait type is the contrapposto pose with the weight clearly shifted to one leg. Scholars have seen a special reference in this pose in the statue of Augustus. They have seen strong parallels to the statue entitled the Doryphoros by the Greek mid fifth-century BCE artist Polykleitos. This statue was one of the most famous and most copied statues of Antiquity. A copy in Naples gives us some sense of the lost original. Literary references to this statue make it clear that Polykleitos intended this statue to be a visual demonstration of his canon of ideal man. The similarities between the two statues extend beyond the poses to the handling of facial details. Both emphasize the clear delineation of the brow and nose.

Similar conventions are used in the handling of the hair of both. It was undoubtedly intentional on the part of the Augustan artists to base their statue on the Greek work. The rich drapery with its multiple-folds and elegant edge can be related to Greek Classical drapery style like that appearing on the Parthenon. Both the Doryphoros and the Augustus of Primaporta share the same calm, self-controiled expression. Using the Greek distinction, both represent the ethos , or character, of the figures rather than their pathos , or immediate emotional response. The conception of the ideal man of the Greek Classical period was an important model for Augustus, the ideal man of his age, but there is the significant difference that the Augustus statue is unmistakably a portrait of Augustus while the Doryphoros like the other major Greek works is a representation of the archetypal concept of the male figure and clearly not a representation of a particular individual.

Beyond the standardization of type, a striking feature of the Augustus statue and imperial portraiture in general is the standardization in the representation of the individual emperors. While the portraits of Augustus are easily identifiable by the facial features, the artists were clearly not interested in representing Augustus at different stages of his life. Portraits of Augustus are not 'realistic' at all and bear little resemblance to the description of him given by Suetonius Augustus There are no portraits of a sixty year old Augustus.

Like the Augustus of Primaporta , the portraits show Augustus at the prime of his life. Another significant difference between the Polykleitos statue and the Augustus of Primaporta is how the Doryphoros is self-contained in its balanced pose while the right arm of the Augustus of Primaporta extends out in space. This is one of the most popular and easily identifiable gestures in Roman art, the ad locutio gesture or the gesture of speech. In Roman public life, the orator played a central role. The ability to convince an audience through an effective oration was critical to the success of a politician. For a military leader, the ability to rally and motivate the army was a hallmark of a great general.

The ad locutio gesture conveys of the voice and authority of the figure. The importance of the orator in Roman public life explains the central role of rhetoric in Roman education. A good rhetorician would learn to adapt his style to the appropriate context. A good rhetorician would know to use a simpler, plainer style for certain audiences while using a higher, more eloquent style in more formal and sophisticated contexts. He also would know how to quote respected authorities to lend support to an argument. There is thus an important parallel between rhetoric and the design of Augustan statuary. It was clearly intentional to adapt the Classical Greek style and specific reference to the famed statue by Polykleitos in creating the Augustus of Primaporta.

What scholars call Augustan classicism relates the period of Augustus to the great period of Greek culture of the fifth century BCE, the so-called age of Pericles and the period of the Parthenon. Individual details of the statue serve to reinforce the claims and ambitions of Augustus. Attached to the right foot of Augustus and serving as a support for the statue is a representation of a cupid riding on the back of a dolphin. As stated in the prophesy from the Aeneid cited above, Augustus traced his ancestry back to Aeneas and the foundation of the Roman tradition.

Aeneas was understood to have been the off-spring of the goddess Venus like the Cupid who rides the back of the dolphin. This geneaology was central to his claim to be princeps and pater patriae. Patriarchal family structure was the bedrock of Roman society. The Roman elite of the Senatorial class owed their status not to their personal accomplishments but to the authority of their family. By basing his claim to authority on his geneaology which links him to the first family of Rome, Augustus was appealing to traditional Roman values. He again constructed himself as a conserver and rennovator and definitely not as an innovator. The decoration of the cuirass places a specific event in the context of a Roman vision of the world.

At the center of the relief, there is a barbarian figure clearly identifiable by pants and beard handing a Roman military standard to a man dressed on a Roman cuirass. While there is no certainty as to the identification of the Roman in the scene, the barbarian is identifiable as a Parthian, perhaps their king Phraates IV, who returned the Roman standards in 20 BCE that the Parthians had captured in 53 BCE after the defeat of Crassus. Significantly this victory was a diplomatic and not a military one, and was heralded as an important step in establishing the era of Augustan peace. Other figures on this cuirass bring out the universal implications of this event.

At the top appears a bearded figure holding a veil over his head. This is Caelus , or the Sky god, with the mantle of the heavens. Beneath this figure appears a figure driving a four-horse chariot. This is the sun-god Sol. The chariot is preceded and appears to chase a figure identified as Aurora. Flanking the central group are again two female figures. The one on the left has been identified as Hispania Spain while the other has been suggested to be Gallia. Beneath these figures are the brother and sister pair of Apollo, with a lyre and riding a griffin, and Diana, riding a stag. At the very bottom of the cuirass appears the reclining female figure Tellus who holds a cornucopia and is accompanied by two babies. This imagery gives Roman rule divine sanction to rule everything under the heavens from Spain to Gaul and everything over the Earth.

It is important to acknowledge the gender politics of this cuirass with the male Sol driving out female Aurora. The provinces and earth are personfied as female with the active male figures at the center of the composition. The imagery of the cuirass clearly relates to one of the odes of Horace. While the Augustus of Primaporta gives visual form to the role of Augustus as imperator , or the leader of Roman military forces, other statues represent the other functions of Augustus.

The statue above with its elaborate toga, the traditional Roman dress, and mantle drawn over the head capite velato identifies this statue as Augustus in the role of Pontifex maximus. The right arm which has been lost beneath the elbow originally held a patera or a sacrificial cup. A statue like this reminds us of the important role the practice of Roman religion played in the social and political life of Rome. In participating in the civic cults one signified their membership in Roman society. A central virtue in Roman society was pietas. It is important to distinguish this from the Christian ideas of piety. The Roman notion of Pietas focused on the maintenance and veneration of traditional Roman customs.

By emphasizing his pietas , Augustus was again asserting his claim to be a conserver of traditional Roman values. It was not by chance that Vergil in his Aeneid repeatedly identifies the hero as "pious Aeneas. The Ara Pacis. The most famous example of Augustan art that has come down to us is the Ara Pacis, or the Altar of Peace. Founded on July 4, 13 BCE and completed on January 30, 9 BCE, was designed as a permanent monument to the most important accomplishment of Augustus --the bringing of an era of peace. This was particularly important to the Romans who had witnessed the instability of the Civil Wars that marked the end of the Republican period.

The theme of peace is intertwined on the altar with themes of the dynastic claims of the family of Augustus, his social policy, and the importance of religion as a civilizing force. The form of the altar is a large precinct wall that encloses the altar itself. Doors in the middle of the east and west sides provide access to the altar. Attempts to identify the source for the form of the altar have suggested close parallels to the fifth century BCE Altar of the Twelve Gods in the Agora in Athens.

This is one of the many links connecting this Roman work to Greek and especially Athenian mid-fifth century monuments. Rectangular figurative panels flank the doorways at either end of the exterior wall. The scenes on either side of the west end show the legendary founders of Rome. The left hand panel is poorly preserved. It represents Mars and the twin Romulus and Remus. Mars as the war god articulates the role war plays in the establishing of peace. Mars was understood to be the father of Romulus, the founder of Rome. As stated in the prophesy from the Aeneid , Romulus was understood to be an ancestor of Augustus.

The relief on the southwestern side represents another important ancestor of Augustus with the image of Aeneas Sacrificing. He is shown making an offering to the penates, or the household gods. Aeneas is accompanied by his son Julus-Ascanius. The implications of this panel for Augustus are very clear. Augustus would have wanted to be linked to his legendary ancestor Aeneas, the pater father of the Julian family and the Roman tradition. Aeneas' pietas testifies to his respect for his family traditions just as the altar testifies to the pietas of Augustus.

The filial piety of Aeneas was a well-known subject in Roman art as demonstrated by its appearance in frescos, tombstones, and even lamps. The illustrated tombstone exemplifies this subject. Aeneas is shown as the "sandwich generation" supporting his father, Anchises, by his left arm and holding his son's hand by his right hand. The group illustrates Aeneas rescuing his father and son from burning Troy. The tombstone relief shows Aeneas wearing a cuirass like Augustus wears in the Augustus of Primaporta.

Anchises is shown holding a box containing the penates or the family gods. It is to these penates that Aeneas is shown offering the sacrifice of the sow in the Ara Pacis relief. The sow is a reference to a prophesy in Virgil's Aeneid that the hero would find a sow under an oak tree when he arrived in Latium. The reliefs on the east end of the building are allegorical figures. On the southeast side is the so-called Tellus panel. This is the personification of Earth. The figure is sometimes identified as Italia , or Italy.

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