Artists, like writers and social activists, are affected by their surroundings. Therefore, the work that they produce is also extremely affected by the existing society. Political, moral, economical, and religious views of a period are frequently themes in artwork, whether they are symbolic or obvious. The styling and technique that is used depicts and is a result of the ongoing era. When thematic issues and styles undergo drastic transformations, it can be understood that it is a result from the changing times and situations.
The artistic changes in time the Western Society from Roman times to the time of Carolingian Empire are no exception. These creative differences that occurred during such times make it effortless to notice and understand the changes that were taking place. As a result, the alterations in society can be understood from the Roman Empire to the time of Charlemagne, just by observing some of the artwork from these times The Roman Empire was a definite milestone for the advancement of knowledge and civilization.
The historian Edward Gibbon in his classic book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire declared that Rome had at last experienced a “period the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous. ” At this time, he continues, “the empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth and the most civilized portion of mankind. ” This favorable state of affairs he attributed to the Romans’ genius for law and order, their cultivation of tolerance and justice, and their capacity for wise government (Fleming, 95-96).
Such feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction that were present during this time were so evident in many artworks. The art of this era was majestic, romanticized, and idealistic. The Romans wanted to celebrate the magnificent Empire by paying homage to their important leaders and events. A prime example of such characteristics is Augustus of Prima Porta. This marble structure was done in 20 BC, shortly after the Roman Empire was founded. Augustus Caesar “turned his energies to restoring civilian morale and rebuilding the city of Rome.
By fostering a literature in their own Latin tongue, he reawakened the pride of his people in their historical past and present (Fleming, 93). ” Since the Romans were so proud of these accomplishments, they constructed this sculpture to appear valiant and noble. His carriage shows unmistakable confidence, and his arm is raised as though he was “addressing his troops (Fleming, 93). ” The facial features are realistic and of classical style. His well-defined muscles are visible even through armor, and create a feeling of authority.
The breastplate is intricately carved with images “recounting the outstanding achievements of his reign together with pictures of gods and goddesses who conferred favors upon him (Fleming, 93). ” Every aspect of this sculpture portrays Augustus Caesar as the very effective dominator that he was. An additional artwork that shows the advertising of the Roman Empire is Trajan’s Column. Trajan came into rule in 98 BC. After his inauguration as supreme ruler of the empire, Trajan had a new forum built. Once again the egoism of the Romans is visible through the colossal size of this new construction.
It “equaled all previous forums combined, bringing the total area covered by such structures to over twenty-five acres (Fleming, 97). ” Trajan’s Column is quite visible in the forum, being that is in the center of a courtyard. This elaborate column exhibits the two Dacian crusades, which resulted in the growth of the Roman Empire to the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. “The hero of the story is, of course, the soldierly Trajan, who is shown fulfilling his imperial mission as the defender of Rome against the advances of barbarians (Fleming, 101). In the proud Roman tradition, Trajan “seems to be everywhere at once and is portrayed as a bold and steady figure in complete command of the situation, whatever its nature (Fleming, 101). ” Once again, Romans are portrayed as a supreme group. The similarities of these pieces are quite obvious. They both convey ideas of power and strength. Such ideas lead to the belief that at the time of the Roman Empire, the people were very proud of themselves as a whole, and wanted to celebrate and propagate their accomplishments.
Nevertheless, there is one major distinction between the two compositions. The artistic approach of Trajan’s Column is quite different then that of Augustus at Prima Porta. This is because Rome had departed from Hellenistic precedents in addition to absorbing all the useful arts and ideas from the entire Mediterranean world, including Rome’s own Estrucean and early heritage. When all these influences and devices had been taken into account, a special synthesis was developed by which the architects, sculptors, and writers achieved a unique Roman style (Fleming 97).
Therefore, the existing social changes were inadvertently visible through the evolving artworks of these eras. Another theme that frequently appeared in Roman Empirical art, was that of religion. “Religion to the Romans was the tradition and continuity of the family and, in the larger sense, the history and destiny of Rome itself (Fleming, 106). ” Before the legalization of Christianity, early masses and other types of ceremonial celebrations were held in catacombs. Such settings for their religious rites were grim indeed.
Decorative art as such was not only beyond their means but was ruled out as being too worldly. Some slave converts, however, had certain skills, and they were allowed to paint on the walls with Christian symbols and visual versions of the Old and New Testament stories that illustrated the teachings of the church for those who could not read (Fleming, 123). Christianity was made an official, legal religion in 313 AD, by Constantine. When this happened, marble tombs (sarcophagi) were created forming a “link between pagan Roman and early Christian art (Fleming, 123). The Sacrophagus of Juius Bassus is a definite indication of the melding of the Roman world with the Christian religion. One major factor that is quite evidential is that all the people portrayed (with the exception of the nude Adam and Eve) are dressed in traditional Roman clothing, togas. A further exhibition of Roman style in this piece, is the appearance of the figures. All of the images have physical similarities to the previously discussed Augustus at Prima Porta. In other words, they are classical and realistic in the facial features and body structure; both are characteristics of typical Roman artwork.
Another significant piece of art, done in the days of early Christianity, is the mosaic, Good Shepherd Separating the Sheep from the Goats, done in the sixth century Ravenna. The mosaics of the early period were commissioned by Theodoric and are Early Christian craftsmanshipAfter Justinian’s conquest, the church was rededicated and references to Arian beliefs and Theodoric’s reign were removed. Half a century later, part of a frieze above the nave arcade was replaced by mosaics in the Byzantine style (Fleming, 130). This mosaic is quite remarkable because it vividly exhibits the combination of Byzantine and Early Roman art.
This alludes to a similar idea of a unification of Christianity and Roman followings within the then existing social settings. In the East the Byzantine Empire, so powerful from Constantine through Justinian, gradually began to crumble as various parts fell to the armies of Islam. In the West, after the fall of Ravennea and Rome, the center of gravity gradually shifted northward, and a period of the Dark Ages descended on Europe. The spread of Christianity was accompanied by a time of struggle and strife among contending migratory tribes and local factions, which resulted in a power vacuum (Fleming, 157-158)
The Lombards invaded Italy and the Roman Popes turned to the Franks for support. The Popes wanted an affiliation with the Franks in support for the intervention against the Lombards. One of the first lights to shine through the prevailing darkness was in the form of a kingdom of the Franks of the Rhine valley. The Frankswere Christians faithful to the Popes as bishops of Rome, and they took over much of the Roman system of government (Fleming, 158). Charles the Great, otherwise known as Charlemagne was the Frankish leader from 768 AD until 814 AD.
After he defeated the Lombards, Charlemagne accepted Italy into his power. After he took control over the majority of Western Europe, Charlemagne was made the Holy Roman Emperor. “Charlemagne was a sincere admirer of learning and the arts. To make his empire as splendid as that of Romehe invited to his court at Aachen the best minds and the finest craftsmen of western Europe and the Byzantine East (Gardner, 330). ” These craftsmen constructed the Imperial Chapel, which was connected to the Royal Palace. The church was modeled after the Church of San Vitale, from sixth century Ravenna. The plan was based on the octagonal contours of San Vitale, and its marbles and mosaics found here a new home (Fleming, 159). ” What divided the Church of San Vitale from the Imperial Chapel is not just the difference of two hundred years. San Vitale is much more sophisticated and elaborate than the Imperial Chapel. This is because there was not any architectural structures like this before the ruling of Charlemagne. In his efforts to keep the education and culture of the Holy Roman Empire similar to that of the Roman Empire, Charlemagne
Imported whole libraries from Italy and Byzantium. The illustrations in these books must have astonished northern painters, some of whom had been trained in the Hiberno-Saxon manner of pattern making, while others were schooled in the weak inept Frankish styles of the seventh and eighth centuries. Here they were confronted suddenly with a sophisticated realism that somehow had survived from the Late Antique period amidst all the denaturing tendencies that followed (Gardner, 330). The image of Saint Matthew from the Coronation Gospels,
Descends from ancient depictions in sculpture and painting of an inspired philosopher and poet seated and writing. Its technique is of the same antiquity-deft, illusionistic brushwork that easily and accurately defines the masses of the drapery as they wrap and enfold the body beneath. The acanthus of the frame of the “picture window” recalls the fourth Pompeian style; the landscape background is classicizing, and the whole composition seems utterly out of place in the north in the ninth century (Gardner, 330-331).
The Northern production of Saint Matthew is similar to the image from the Coronation Gospels, in the position of the saint and the general idea, but it is in no way a replica of it. In the Italian/Byzantine image, Matthew is portrayed in the classic physical tradition. He seems proud and at ease. The Northern piece is just the opposite. The Saint seems stressed, and is portrayed in a crude, almost cartoonish manner. The existence of these two images is quite useful in the display of change from the Roman Empire to the rule under Charlemagne.
The Northerners “show a somber pessimism built on a fundamental belief in fate or the inevitable. Their heroes like Siegfried and Beowulf, struggle against a pagan world of dreadful monsters (Gardner, 321). ” These negative emotions are visible in the Germanic portrayl of Saint Matthew. The artistic changes that developed from the Roman Empire to the time of Charlemagne were extraordinary because so many different techniques and themes were practiced. These dramatic variations in art are undoubtedly resulted from the drastic changes with in the Western Society.