Analysis of Ancient Artworks
Analysis of Ancient Artworks
Artworks of ancient civilizations represent a solid source to historians for understanding the culture, beliefs, and many other aspects of ancient societies. Since ancient civilizations lack written documentations, artwork was considered a major means of communication and documentation. Through pieces of art related to a certain civilization, historians are capable of identifying important events that took place during the time of that civilization, as well as understanding the social structure. Five pieces of art, related to five different ancient civilizations, are discussed. The pieces are related to the Classical Greek, Hellenistic Greek, Etruscan, Roman Republic and Roman Empire civilizations respectively. Each artwork has a meaning, relation to the civilization and influence by the civilization.
The first art piece, shown below, is related to the Classical Greek civilization and dates back to approximately 360 B.C. This grave stele shows four people, who seem to be members of one family. The man setting down represents the father of the family considering the beard, which can resemble a man to be of an older age, and the woman behind him is likely to be the mother. It is not certainly clear who is the deceased member in this family (Marble Grave Stele with a Family Group). However, the woman staring down at the rest of the family, who can represent a daughter of the family, is more likely to be the deceased one considering the fact that she is invisible, and that the rest of the family members do not appear to be aware of her stare. As can be seen in the picture, the mother is holding the hand of her small child while the deceased daughter is trying to reach out to the family with her hand. This resembles an extremely intimate relationship this family had since even the deceased member is still somehow connected to the rest of the family. This art piece helps understand certain features of Classical Greece’s society and culture. Examining this grave stele reveals the fact that ancient Classical Greece maintained close and intimate relationships between family members throughout their lives (Garland 33). Moreover, this work shows that ancient Classical Greek families used grave steles with family members’ statues displayed as a way to insure a permanent remembrance of a family member who died during that time.
The second artwork, shown in image 2 below is dated back to around 100 B.C. during the Hellenistic period of the ancient Greece. This marble sculpture is believed to be representative of Aphrodite, a famous Greek goddess of love and beauty. This statue resembles what was considered the ideal female physical attributes. It resembled health and beauty. This art piece is a clear indication of the artistic precision during the Hellenistic period. That is because, as can be observed from the statue. Every single curve and line in the body is accurately drawn. Venus de Milo reveals an important aspect of the art during Hellenistic culture, which is the fact that it was largely influenced by the Classical Greek artwork. This has been discovered by historians after noticing several similarities between the two culture’s artwork. For example, in the case of Venus de Milo, the way Aphrodite is posing and standing, where the stress is mostly on the right leg while the left leg is left up a certain degree, was found to be of a similar pose of statues found that are dated back to the Classical Greek civilization (Kousser 227). The relationship between the art and the culture of the Hellenistic Greek civilization is evidenced by the difference in the depiction of women in the respective culture. Accordingly, mortal women were never depicted as naked within Hellenistic monumental sculpture. Such prestige was solely reserved for goddesses. In this respect, the goddess Aphrodite is illustrated in a nude form as a sign of monumental respect during the Hellenistic Greek civilization. Based on this depiction, it is clear that the civilization influenced this form of art due to its acknowledgment of women and their physique. During the Hellenistic period, the sculptures representing women in their nude were developed in honor of the woman’s body and the eroticism it embodied.
The third artwork below is related to the Etruscan civilization and dates back to early 3rd century BC. The sculpture illustrates an Alabaster cinerary urn that was a rather common piece of sculpture among the Etruscans at the time. Accordingly, the cinerary urn is believed to be a representative of the unique burial form created and initiated by the Etruscans. The respective sculpture depicts the Etruscans’ fascination with death and the efforts they applied in ensuring that the dead are buried in a sophisticated manner. In description, the lid of the urn depicts a reclining woman who wields a fan within her right hand. In addition, a large torque necklace is seen around the woman’s neck. Consequently, the frieze illustrates two pairs of Greek individuals fighting Amazon as the Etruscan demon of death, Vanth, is positioned on the right. The Amazonomachy is derived from Greek art, specifically from the 4th century. Furthermore, the artwork appears on other works within the Etruscan civilization. The incorporation of the Vanth comprises an Etruscan addition towards the representation.
The relationship between the art and the culture of the related civilization comprises the Etruscans’ focus on the after-life. The gods of the Etruscan civilization were cryptic and mysterious. Additionally, men possessed a deep fear of the fate waiting for them after death. This is best evidenced by the inclusion of the demon Vanth in the urn’s artwork involving the fight between the Greeks and the Amazons. The notion of death imposed a considerable influence on the Etruscans’ tomb art. With considerable belief in the after-life and fear of the unknown, the Etruscans worked hard in creating tombs that acted as the ultimate resting place for the deceased. Furthermore, they tried as much as possible to ensure that they equipped the dead with the necessities required for the phase of the afterlife (Alabaster Cinerary Urn). Based on this, cremation of the dead often took place and the ashes were put in an urn in order to ensure that the dead lived well in the afterlife. This is evidenced by the decoration of this respective artwork. This culture among the Etruscans influenced the development of burial-related structures made specifically for the dead.
The fourth artwork below is related to the civilization evident specifically in the Roman Republic. Accordingly, this piece of art dates back to 1st century BC. The sculpture represents the portrait bust of a Roman Republican man. Consequently, the portrait is believed to be a representative of the morally upright, courageous, and virtuous Roman male. In description, the portrait illustrates a grim-faced male with pronounced facial qualities suggesting that he is middle-aged. The portrait bust arguably illustrates the values that the Roman Republic deemed as acceptable and respectable at the time. The conventional notion of virtue demanded traditional morality, bravery, and endurance in battle, and responsibility towards members of the public (Portrait Bust of a Man, 1st Century BC; Republican Roman). Additionally, the value of prestige was derived from age, competition among evenly matched persons within the instituted political system, and experience. As such, these comprised the values exuded in the portrait of the middle-aged, grim-faced man within this particular artwork.
The relationship between the artwork and the civilization is based on the Roman Republic’s representation of ideals through personification of the human male. During this period, men were the only individuals required to be involved in battle and politics within the respective society. Additionally, the Roman Republicans believed that facial features were imperative in terms of communicating the values of a person. Simply, for them, their culture perceived the face and its features as the best conveyor of age, personality, and wisdom attained through long and difficult years of one’s life (Portrait Bust of a Man, 1st Century BC; Republican Roman). As such, they believed that such qualities could be best exemplified via portraiture in order to exude the traits and characteristics valued most. In this respect, it is also possible to assert that the culture in the Roman Republic influenced this genre of art due to its substitution of values for facial features as evidenced in this respective artwork.
The last artwork below dates back to a period between 130 and 150 AD during the reign of the Roman Empire. Interestingly, the marble sculpture comprises a sarcophagus possessing garlands and decorated with the mythical narrative of Ariadne and Theseus. The tomb represents the Roman Empire’s inclination towards religious myth especially due to its depiction of important fabled figures. The artwork reveals the strides applied by the Greek hero Theseus in order to rescue Andromeda. Amidst the swags evident on the tomb, three episodes of the myth can be seen clearly. With the assistance of Ariadne the Cretan Princess, Theseus is capable of slaying the Minotaur. As illustrated form the left to the right, Ariadne is shown to give a thread to Theseus at the entry point of the Minotaur’s labyrinth. This is followed by Theseus killing the Minotaur, with the scene ending in Ariadne sleeping on the island of Naxos as she is abandoned (Marble Sarcophagus with Garlands and the Myth of Theseus and Ariadne).
The relationship between the artwork and the culture of the related civilization comprises the integration of the Roman Empire’s love for mythology into art. Accordingly, Greek mythology was rather common among the Romans. In addition, such myth also drew from the gods and goddesses that the Romans worshipped as documented in past sources. As such, the mythology of Theseus and its incorporation on the marble sarcophagus indicates the Roman Empire’s inclination towards Greek mythology. This tendency towards Greek mythology as a descriptive factor of the civilization in the Roman Empire was responsible for influencing the incorporation of the tale between Theseus and Ariadne upon the marble sarcophagus.
In conclusion, the five artworks explored in the discourse reveal the extent to which a certain culture or civilization imposes a considerable effect on the composition of the art. The Classical Greek, Hellenistic Period, Etruscan civilization, the Roman Republic, and the Roman Empire comprise related yet different forms of art. These artworks reveal the different facets of the involved culture and the influence they imposed especially in developing disparate forms of art for people to see.
Alabaster Cinerary Urn. n. d. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/246269?=&imgno=0&tabname=label>
Garland, Robert. Daily Life of the Ancient Greeks. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2009. Print.
Kousser, Rachel. “Creating the Past: The Venus de Milo and the Hellenistic Reception of Classical Greece.” American Journal of Archeology 109 (2005): 227-250. Print.
Marble Grave Stele with a Family Group, Greek, Attic.ca. 360 BC. n. d., Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <http://cciv244sp2013.site.wesleyan.edu/project-6/grave-stele/>
Marble Sarcophagus with Garlands and the Myth of Theseus and Ariadne. n. d. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/90.12a,b>
Portrait Bust of a Man, 1st Century BC; Republican Roman. n. d. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/12.233>
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