a. Art form or medium
b. Purpose of the piece
c. Individual or group responsible for the piece
d. Meaning of the work
e. The culture and the artist
f. Influence by art and culture from previous civilizations
g. Relation to artwork within the same civilization or era
h. Meaning and value of the piece in modern-day cultures
The different art forms and media whether architecture, music, visual art, or literature from different past civilization offer the modern civilization spectacular cultures and pieces that continue to greatly influence and act as a foundation for current and future art forms and media. The following three chapters will examine art forms and media from three eras: Roman Civilizations, Italian Renaissance, and Hellenistic Civilizations. In the Roman civilization we will delve into architecture. Regarding the Italian Renaissance, we will take a close look at visual art. The Hellenistic Civilizations offers some of the most famous literature works in the past. Among the many past civilization, Roman civilization is vastly known for its conquests, culture, and architecture, military and political forces (Hopkins 1). The Roman civilization played a significant role in the development of modern civilization. Roman civilization is famous for its architecture, which is still enduring and shaping the world today. In an effort to show the power of Rome and improve the lives of its citizens, Roman architects and engineers introduced architectural techniques such as the dome, vault and arch (Hopkins 1). They introduced the use of cement and concrete that was mixed in such a manner that lead to the establishment of renowned structures such as public baths, temples, bridges, roads, basilicas, amphitheatres, drainage systems and aqueducts. One of the greatest works of architecture erected by the Roman civilization was the Colosseum or the Coliseum. The Colosseum was built in Rome and is located east of the Palatine Hill formerly Nero’s Golden House (Hopkins 1). This freestanding elliptical amphitheatre was built of stone and concrete and measures 620 feet long by 513 feet wide. The Colosseum had a massive retractable velarium that supported masts extended from corbels (Hopkins 1). Travertine marble makes up the face of the Colosseum, while the seats rest on a honeycomb structure of vaults and arcades. There were cells for wild animals, pathways for spectators and rooms for gladiators. Of its four stories, three stories have arcades framed by decorative half columns in the Ionic, Corinthian and Doric orders. The arcade vaults and inner bowl are made of concrete and the secondary walls are made of volcanic tufa (Hopkins 1).
The Colosseum was built to seat between fifty thousand to eighty thousand audiences of gladiatorial contests (Hopkins 1). The arena held hand to hand contests between gladiators, fights between animals and men and mock naval engagements. Romans used to conduct reenactment of famous battles, executions and even dramas that derived material from the classical mythology. At the beginning, the Colosseum was just used for entertainment but after the early medieval era it was used for other purposes. It was used for housing and at a certain time to house a religious order. It was a quarry, a workshop, a fortress and a Christian shrine. On Good Friday, the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church also leads a torch lit procession beginning from around the Colosseum known as the “Way of the Cross” (Frommer 1). The Colosseum is also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre. This was derived from Flavius, the family name of the three emperors that formed the Flavian dynasty which was established by Vespasian in 69 BC. Vespasian was responsible for commissioning of the Colosseum, whose construction began between 70 to 72 CE. He drained and replaced the centerpiece artificial lake of the tyrannical emperor’s (emperor Nero) palace with a public amphitheatre symbolic of his relatively humble path to the throne (Hopkins 1). Flavian emperors saw to the construction, opening and modification of this giant amphitheatre. The completion and opening of the Colosseum was done by Vespasian son and heir, Titus, in 80 CE just right before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. On opening the Colosseum, Titus held a ceremony that involved a hundred days of games. Between 81 and 96 CE, Domitian made further modifications to the Colosseum by adding the uppermost story gallery to increase the seating capacity and constructing the hypogeum which were underground tunnels for housing slaves and animals (Hopkins 1). Vespasian commissioned the construction of the Colosseum using his general’s share of the loot which they obtained from the Jewish Temple and siege of Jerusalem. The Colosseum is a great triumphal monument that shows same the Roman traditions of celebrating great victories. The Colosseunm served to appease the Roman people and not the soldiers returning from the great Jewish revolt. It was the heart of Rome since it was built in the centre of the city. It was a mighty quintessential symbol of the Roman empire’s power and cruelty (Hopkins 1). Vespasian built the Colosseum on Nero’s artificial lake in an effort to return to the people the land he had stolen for his own use. The Colosseum hosted murderous animal to man and man to man battles that aroused a passion and lust for blood. It created a class of lazy loungers that did nothing but watch the games. The Colosseum reveals a culture thirsty for blood. The Colosseum expressed a Roman culture that did not value human or animal life. A culture that believed in slavery and brutally abused animals for sport. This colossally sized and lavishly ornamented structure revealed the spirit of the conqueror and the celebrator (Hopkins 1). The Colosseum shows that Roman architecture was greatly influenced by the Greek architecture and sculpture, Etruscan design and art and Egyptian pyramid architecture. Roman architecture was dominantly influenced by the Greek architecture that believed in post and lintel system methods of building domes and arches. The important techniques derived from the Etruscans were the vault and arch which took the Roman engineering away from the Greek influence. The Romans used simple geometric vaulting techniques such as segmental vault, barrel vault and groin vault. Roman architectural design was characterized by complex domes (Hopkins 1). The mastery of using the domes, vaults and arches and development of concrete by Roman architects and engineers in building the Colosseum aided in the construction of other amphitheaters and the arch of Titus. It was different from existing amphitheaters since it was freestanding and located in city centre. The colosseum is an iconic structure in modern day culture and has been used as a backdrop scene for many movies and video games. It is one of the greatest tourist attraction rich in history and culture. For contemporary Christians it is a sacred spot and a reminder of the persecution of earlier Christian martyrs.
The Italian Renaissance
The Italian Renaissance is a period marked by great “rebirth”, renewal and change in classical antiquity. It is well recognized for its cultural achievements. This era was marked by elegant poetry, architecture and more so paintings. Some of the most influential painters of this era are Leonardo Da Vinci and Michael Angelo. Leonardo Da Vinci most famous portrait is the Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa is a portrait of a half-length woman, who is thought to be Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo. It was painted between 1503 and 1506, using oil paints on a white Lombardy purpose poplar panel. Mona Lisa is also referred to as Monna Lisa or La Gioconda or La Joconde. The Mona Lisa was painted for Francesco del Giocondo, a wealthy Florentine silk merchant. The painting was commissioned in order to adorn their new home to celebrate the birth of their second son, Andrea. It was a portrait of Francesco’s wife, Lisa Del Giocondo who was a member of the Gherardini family of Tuscany and Florence. Mona refers to a polite Italian address similar to my lady, ma’am or madam in English. La Gioconda, the Italian name for Mona Lisa, literally means “jovial” or “happy” (Sassoon 17).
Hellenistic Civilizations The Hellenistic period is a period in history that began after the death of Alexander the Great. This was period preceding the Roman Civilization. After Alexander the Great died, his vast conquests were divided amongst his leading generals. With the new found wealth, the generals started royal dynasties scattered over separate kingdoms. The Greek civilization was influential as it spread through these kingdoms, especially in the Middle East. The Greek Civilization mixed with the local cultures in the Middle East. The result of this mixing of the Greek Civilization and the local cultures was a hybrid civilization. The Hellenistic period span from 323 BC to 31 BC. This is when Egypt ruled by Queen Cleopatra, the last Hellenistic kingdom fell to Rome. One of the most prominent artifacts from this period was the Winged Victory of Samothrace. This artifact was also known as the Nike of Samothrace. It has been described as the “greatest masterpiece of Hellenistic Sculpture,” (Janson 157).
This artifact is a sculpture, estimated to have been created between 200 BC and 190 BC (Janson 157). The sculpture is eight feet or two hundred and twenty four centimeters (Honour & Flemming 174). This sculpture was created to serve two purposes. One of the purposes for which this sculpture was created was to honor the Greek goddess, Nike. In Greek religion, Nike, the goddess embodied victory. It is from this characteristic that her name was the Winged Goddess of Victory. The second purpose for which the sculpture was created was to accord honor to a sea battle. The sculpture conveys a message of a sense of action as well as the triumph. The sculpture also portrays artful flowing drapery. This drapery is significant because it mimics the action of the goddess descending in order to alight from the prow of the ship from which the battle of sea was waged. The sculpture was created by Pythokritos of Lindos (Janson 157). The work on the sculpture was commissioned by the Macedonians in order to celebrate and commemorate their naval triumph over Athens (Kinnee 50). The Nike of Samothrace is an artifact of the Hellenistic period which is greatly influenced by the Peragemen School. I see the use of the classical features that were commonplace in the Peragemen sculptors. The spiraling effect of the artful flowing drapery is theatrically sculptured with the aim of giving the art piece emotion. This is also achieved through the oblique positioning of the wings of the goddess. This shows a Rhodian influence that is a characteristic of the Peragemen School. The Nike of Samothrace is an artifact of the Hellenistic period that is also related to other pieces of art within this civilization. Some of the similarities include the influence of religion. Hellenistic religion is greatly influenced by the Greek culture (Time Maps 1). Given the influence of the Greek Civilization during the Hellenistic period, Greek gods were prevalently worshiped in the region where the Greek influence was felt. The goddess of victory (Nike), the goddess upon which the Nike of Samothrace is based was a Greek goddess. Honoring the gods was part of the rituals and rites that were performed as part of worship of the Greek gods, hence the creation of the sculpture to honor the gods for the for the Macedonian sea victory over Athens (Time Maps 1). The Nike of Samothrace is still significant in contemporary cultures. Many copies of the sculpture have been made and installed in numerous galleries and museums in various cities in the world. A copy of the Nike of Samothrace is found in Caesars Palace casino located in Las Vegas. Another famous derivative work of the Nike of Samothrace is initial trophy of FIFA World Cup that was commissioned in 1930 (Koldau 219). Frank Lloyd Wright has used the reproductions of the Nike of Samothrace in several buildings including the Storer House, Willits House and Darwin D. Martin House.
Honour, Hugh, and John Fleming. A World History of Art. London: Laurence King Pub, 2009. Print.
Janson, Woldemar. History of Art. 5th edn. Revised and expanded by Anthony F. Janson. London. Thames & Hudson. 1995. Print.
Kinnee, Lauren. The Nike of Samothrace: The Next Generation Attalid Victory Monument? Yale University. 2002. Web. 20 Apr. 2015
Koldau, Linda The Titanic on Film: Myth Versus Truth. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2012. Print.
Sassoon, Donald. Mona Lisa: The History of the World's Most Famous Painting. London: HarperCollins, 2001. Print.
Hopkins, Keith. The Colosseum: Emblem of Rome. 22 Mar. 2011. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.
Time Maps. Hellenistic period overview. 2015. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.