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To me, the most notable piece of Roman propaganda-style art we looked at is the statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback. I think this one is more subtle than some of the statues portraying heroes explicitly placed next to or decorated with gods, but the message – true or not – comes across that Marcus was enormous, powerful, calm, militaristic, and capable of enforcing his will on the world (shown via the calm control of a powerful, muscular warhorse). This is notable to me because it is the first surviving example of a statue on horseback, which we see all over the world in modern day as a way to show leader figures as lofty, powerful and larger than life.
To me, the most prevalent examples of Roman influence on modern culture are the structures and architecture of many modern governments, and the prestige of Latin as a language in the fields of both science and religion. Many students have touched on the influences of Roman art on modern architecture of government buildings, but I think the extent of the spread and influence of Latin has been understated. Worldwide, despite no longer being spoken, Latin is used as the primary language for defining scientific terminology, as well as serving as many word roots in the English (and other) language(s). Even the country’s motto, “E pluribus unum”, is a Latin phrase. As such, Latin has been put in a position of prestige, and is even described as “a language of scholarship and administration”. This ties the idea of Roman culture inherently to the ideas of academia and governmental leadership, demonstrating how much our modern society has used Roman society as a role model and basis for these ideas.
Ckocsis, what do you think influenced what this variety of cultures saw as “ideal”, and what made it change? Do you think it was societal, social, or from some other source?
Hey Valene, I agree with you, but what are your thoughts on the women being portrayed seeming to only be married women? Do you think that single women experienced the same level of freedoms as married ones? Why or why not, and do we have any evidence?
Hi Valene, I generally agree with you. However, do you think this comes down to our definition of Humanism being somewhat nebulous? Later humanist ideals involve an emphasis on rationalism, but had little to do with religion, both its presence or absence. What are your thoughts?
Hey Dean, I like your ideas about the pieces we looked at from the Hellenistic period being more diverse than previous. However, how much of this diversity do you think is due to the specific examples we have? It’s hard to say whether or not the Hellenistic art that happened to survive is more diverse than the Classical art because of a broader tendency within the artistic community itself. How likely do you think it is that some of the more varied Classical pieces were simply lost?
Hi Bob, I like your point about everyday individual achievement being brought to the forefront. I hadn’t REALLY noticed how much less prevalent the gods were in Greek art compared to Egyptian, but you’re totally right.
Jessi, you make excellent points. I was really trying to consider indigenous peoples’ viewpoints when I wrote my response, but as you might expect, I don’t have as close of a connection to the issue as you, or to members of those groups. I think that THEIR opinions matter more on this subject than anyone else’s.
From context, it seems fairly evident that in Etruscan culture, men and women – or at the very least, husbands and wives – were treated as approximate equals. This contrasts greatly with many previous cultures we have studied where women were treated as a lower caste, had less legal protections, and the fact that in some cases women did not even qualify as citizens. Etruscan art showing men and women engaging in activities together as equals supports this, as does the fact that women are credited for commissioning and gifting artwork. This implies that these women were financially independent, or financially stable and trusted enough by their spouses to commission artwork from others.
While Hellenistic art portrayed more emotion than works from previous eras, and I do see both sides of the argument, I personally do not think that this necessarily counts as progression. I feel that in some ways, Hellenistic art regressed from Humanist ideas. The idea of humanism relied heavily on the fact that mankind did not need the gods, but art of the Hellenistic period seemed to portray the gods, their actions, or the consequences of their actions much more frequently. Statues from earlier periods generally tended to show warriors and soldiers in prime states of fitness, showing off their individual achievements and potential, with far less focus on their connections to the pantheon. The gods being more humanized in later periods is Humanist, but I would still call it an overall regression when compared to the sum total of Humanist ideals portrayed in earlier periods.
Hellenistic art, while being influenced by Greek art, comes in a broader form of mediums and styles. This can be seen in the sense that the statues, while realistically proportioned like earlier Greek statuary, show a wide range of subjects in an even wider range of situations and emotional states. Statues of gods such as Eros, a non-idealistic and childlike figure, were virtually nonexistent in Greek art. The presence of statues of people from other cultures such as the Gallic Trumpeter and LaocoÃ¶n were also not seen in Greek art. All of these prior examples also show a much wider range of human emotion and circumstances, portraying new things such as exhaustion, peacefulness, and even active suffering. However, the biggest example of this to me is the existence of the Epidauros Theater. Theater is by nature a very diverse and individualistic medium, with living actors portraying stories in a way that is very engaging, requiring the presence, attention and interaction of a live audience. While a script can persist, a single stage play itself cannot be preserved for hundreds of years, it can only be enjoyed by the present individual viewers existing there in the moment. This contrasts much of Greek art, which is designed to last for centuries and generations, telling the same story the exact same way over and over again.
Edit: In my post, I accidentally said “golden ratio” instead of “silver ratio”. Totally different artistic principle! My mistake.
Throughout the Classical period, the focus of art gradually seemed to shift not only in the physical proportions of human subjects being displayed, but also in their subject matter. To start, the artwork of the Early Classical period seemed all about the idealization of physical achievement, very specifically masculine achievement. The Kritios Boy, the Riace Warrior and the Myron’s Discobolus statues are all examples of peak male fitness with an emphasis on athleticism and musculature, but the identity, emotional state and personality of the figures being displayed is vague and implied to be unimportant. The focus is not the man himself, but simply the man’s body and what it can do. Even the painted ceramic shows male heroes in acts of victory, continuing the emphasis on masculine physical achievement. This focus seemed to change by the High Classical period, with the importance shifting to the realism of the forms and proportions rather than the overall impression the figures give. The golden ratio was extremely prominent in works of this period, with architecture taking the spotlight (The Akropolis, the Parthenon, and the Porch of the Maidens all being key examples). To contrast, the humanoid figures such as the women on the Grave Stele of Hegeso and Polykleitos’ Doryphoros are shown with very carefully measured and accurate physical proportion, with painstaking attention to details such as the folds of their clothing and the curls of their hair. Their actions are less stressed than the realism, but still show more relatable scenes, with more relaxed posture and more emotion clear on the faces of the subjects. This focus on emotion transitions us to the Late Classical period, where human emotion took the forefront. In all examples from the Late Classical period, humans are the subject, with a much greater focus on relatability and scenes that show vulnerability and sensuality. Praxiteles’ Aphrodite in particular is shown either undressing or covering herself, a very dynamic scene that allows interpretation and interaction from the viewer as opposed to a clearly defined meaning. Even the male figure of Lysippos’ Man is shown grooming himself, a moment of vulnerability taking place after the feats of athleticism implied to have occurred.
To me, this reflects our own society’s ever-changing views on the objectification of human forms, what those forms aught to look like, and how much or how little personality and emotion matter within that context. One example is Mattel’s Barbie, a doll that originally existed for the sake of idealized physical female form and fashion, but has gone through significant changes since then. Barbie — a doll that initially represented modern America’s “ideal woman’ – while still a caricature, has changed in proportion and portrayal over the years since her inception. Barbie dolls are now portrayed with more emotion, more physical variety and less exaggerated features, with a selection of “career’ outfits and accessories for children to play with, which to me reflects modern society’s changes from earlier 50’s era “housewife culture’ and the enforcement of traditional gender roles, to the modern day’s increased desire for educational and workplace equality and the gradual lessening of female sexual objectification. This is only one example, but I believe that the focus on and portrayal of ideal physical form is still constantly evolving within human culture, as it always has.
While a lot of Greek art is heavily influenced by their pantheon of gods, unlike many of the cultures we have studied so far, this pantheon itself is inherently tied to humanist ideas. The Greek gods are humanized, and which gods people and even cities worshipped were tied very much to preference. This is unusual, and to me is tied to humanism’s focus on individual fulfillment. The gods were also portrayed with human flaws and wants, indicating that humans and their gods were hardly different. This says that humans do not NEED the gods, as they are hardly better than humans, which is a humanist ideal. The existence of mortal demigods and human heroes blessed by the gods further cements this, showing that the gods and humans can easily intermingle. Much of their art also shows a great focus on individuals, their emotions and glorifying an individual’s deeds, such as the focus on the dying warrior. Overall, almost all ancient Greek art highlights some aspect of humanity and individualism.