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Art Of The Ancient Greeks, Romans And Christians

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Art History Honors

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Essay #1

Classical Greek Art is characterized by the emerging need among artists to imitate and perfect the ideal human form through idealized naturalism. The Classical period is marked by the introduction of the contrapposto position first seen in the Kritios Boy (ca 480 BC). The function of sculptures during this period was mostly to glorify gods and athletes usually depicted as male nudes. One of the most renowned sculptures of an athlete from that period is Polykleitos' Doryphoros a bronze original (ca 450 BC) that now only exists in marble copies. Polykleitos made it to serve as a standardization for future sculptures. He intended to perfect the human being using the contrapposto pose as well as measuring the body to be able to fit eight heads stacked on top of each other as the dimensions of the ideal. The flexed limbs and the relaxed limbs oppose each other diagonally, with right arm and left leg relaxed while left arm and right leg are ready for action. The head is turned in opposite direction of the slight twist of the hips and is a much more natural pose for a human than the stiff awkward poses of Ancient Egyptian Art. Classical Greek art also had innovations in bronze.

While The Hellenistic period of Greek Art still utilized naturalism in its art, it began to move away from idealism and started to lean more towards realism. As artists gained more freedom to explore social realism they started to create sculptures and art depicted the old, the poor and the suffering. The Old Market Woman (ca 150 BCE) depicts an old woman bringing chickens and a basket of fruits and vegetables to sell in the market. She's bent over with exhaustion and a broken spirit. She is wrinkled and very realistic. Her drapery responds to gravity and her chest bones are visible at the top of her skinny body. Another classical Hellenistic piece is Athanadoros, Hagesandros and Polydoros of Rhodes' LaocoÐ"¶n and his sons (ca 1st century BCE). LacoÐ"¶n was a priest in Troy and warned everyone of "Greeks bearing gifts", of course no one believed him and he was punished by the gods for his attempt at thwarting the Greeks. Although LacoÐ"¶n is indeed in a naturalized idealistic form, his face displays so much agony and anguish as he appears to be screaming in pain while struggling to free himself of the serpents. His hair seems soft and natural and his face embodies so much agony. His muscles are flexing exactly where they should be with veins popping out on his arms as he struggles to pull serpents off of his body.

Artists during the Hellenistic period were very aware of how their subjects interacted with their environment. The sculpture of Nike on a Warship (Nike of Samothrace ca 190 BCE) depicts the goddess Nike with elaborate wings and wind attacking her drapery. Her garments appear to subtly stick to her body because of the water and whip wildly in the wind. The piece was displayed in the upper basin of a two-tiered fountain with the statue reflecting in the water to create the effect of lightness and movement. Hellenistic Art rejected Polykleitos' standardization of perfection in measurement and idealism and instead created very real, very emotive statues that interact with their environment.

Essay #2

Roman architectural style originated from a combination of Greek and Etruscan but evolved into a style of its own. Among other innovations, Rome gave the world concrete, vaulting, roads, aqueducts and arches. The Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia (late 2nd Century BCE) utilizes axial planning like the Greeks but it also uses arches and a new material: concrete, to create this elaborate terraced structure. The arches allow for higher ceilings and more free space. It eliminates the need for columns by delivering the weight to the buttressed sides in a lateral thrust. By using concrete, material was less expensive and more readily available as opposed to transporting marble and other materials across the empire.

As the empire expanded, so too did its need for elaborate structures to exemplify and remind its people of its success. The Colosseum in Rome (ca 70-80 CE) is said to hold more than 50,000 spectators. The Colosseum is free standing and its weight is held up by the vaulting and arches. Three-quarter columns also support some weight on the first tier they were ionic, second Doric and third Corinthian. The structure had many entrances to allow for practical and efficient movement of the spectators. Its function was mostly to entertain with violent gladiatorial fights, bloody hunts against exotic animals imported from Africa and even re-enactments of naval battles. A large canopy could be pulled across the top in case of rain and for shading purposes to make spectating slightly more comfortable. To make the shows more elaborate and unpredictable the Colosseum had various trap doors and passageways underneath complete with training grounds for the gladiators.

Another Roman architectural wonder is the Pantheon (ca 118-125 CE). Revolutionary in its design and its exploitation of concrete and coffers, a huge dome and a design based off of the intersection of two circles creates the image of the interior as an orb of the earth and the dome as the heavens. Atop the dome is an oculus, with a diameter of 30 feet, this opening is the only source for light. To carry all the weight, basalt was added to the mix in the foundations and after modification the top stones were replaced with pumice to lighten the load. The thickness of the dome decreases as it nears the oculus and coffers functionally lighten the load while providing decoration. It is believed that each coffer had a gilded-bronze rosette at its center so as to amplify the effect of the stars and the heavens. Without columns crowding the interior, and with only an oculus for the source of light, dramatic effects and symbolism are amplified as a result of the features of the Pantheon. New materials and innovations allowed for larger scale architecture that in turn expanded the purpose of each building by accommodating more people in the vast space.

Essay # 3

Similar to the Greeks and the Hellenes, sculpture of the Republican period employed the use of marble to naturalistically represent the human. They were more realistic, like the Hellenes than the idealized naturalism that governed the Classical Greek period. The purpose and subject matter didn't really change much from the Hellenes. The Republican period Roman sculpture glorified generals, prominent figures, ancestry, and the gods to an extent. (Usually when the gods were represented the intent was to show a lineage.) The patrons of the time were mostly noble



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