Late Antiquity

October 28, 2013 at 12:15 am (Art History) (, , , , )

After the Edict of Milan (313 CE) ended Christian persecution, monotheistic religions rapidly dominated Roman society and these burgeoning religious themes were reflected in the art and architecture of Late Antiquity.  Early Christian/Jewish art borrowed immensely from Late Roman styles and vice versa.  The mural, Samuel anoints David (245-256 CE), found in the synagogue of Dura-Europos, Syria shares many attributes with a frieze from the Arch of Constantine, Distribution of largesse (312-315 CE), which employs “mechanical and repeated stances and gestures of puppets [and is] less a narrative of action than a picture of actors frozen in time (Kleiner 203).”  The figures are flat and frontally-facing with “curtain-like” drapery and utilizing hierarchy of scale.  They represent an almost complete departure from classical tradition.

Samuel anoints David, Synagogue at Dura-Europos

Samuel anoints David, Synagogue at Dura-Europos

Distribution of Largesse, Arch of Constantine

Distribution of Largesse, Arch of Constantine

Christian sarcophagi vary from those of Late Empire pagans only in theme.  The Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus (359 CE), is virtually identical in style to the Melfi Sarcophagus (165-170 CE).  Although the Bassus exemplar is only carved on three sides, in the Western tradition, and the Melfi coffin utilizes the four-sided, Eastern style, they both feature narratives within Asiatic architectural frames.  While the Melfi sarcophagus depicts “Greek gods and heroes,” the Christian box displays various biblical characters (194).

Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus

Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus

Melfi Sarcophagus

Melfi Sarcophagus

Christians of Late Antiquity appropriated their church designs directly from those of the Roman basilica.  The Pagan, public meeting house was ideal for the growing Christian congregations, which met indoors and rejected the idolatry for which Pagan temples were designed.  The Christian church, Santa Sabina (422-432 CE) shares characteristics with both the Basilica Nova (306-312 CE) and the Aula Palatina (early fourth century CE)—most notably, the timber roofs, clerestory windows and brick exteriors.

Santa Sabina

Santa Sabina

Basilica Nova

Basilica Nova

Aula Palatina

Aula Palatina

Another architectural style, which borrowed heavily from Late Roman innovation, was central-plan building.  These round structures, like the Santa Costanza (337-351 CE), included mosaicked domes with similar construction to the Pantheon.

Santa Costanza

Santa Costanza

Regardless of changing attitudes and styles, some elements of classicism persisted in Christian art.  A set of dichotomous sarcophagi with related iconography are the Late Pagan Sarcophagus of a Philosopher (270-280 CE) and the Early Christian Santa Maria Antiqua Sarcophagus with philosopher, orant and Old and New Testament scenes (270 CE).  Both portray the deceased as a sagacious philosopher with adjacent subordinate(s), a formation often used to demonstrate Jesus with his apostles.

Sarcophagus of Philosopher

Sarcophagus of Philosopher

Santa Maria Antiqua Sarcophagus

Santa Maria Antiqua Sarcophagus

Due to the previously mentioned Christian rejection of idolatry, production of statuary declined during Late Antiquity; however there were a few exceptions.  A marble statuette of Christ seated (350-375 CE) renders a young Jesus in typical Greek/Roman style, with flowing drapery and holding a scroll.

Christ seated

Christ seated

A folio from the illuminated text, Vienna Genesis (early sixth century), personifies a flowing spring as a “semi-nude female,” another classical convention.  One piece, which denies Late Antique principles in both style and iconography, is the Diptych of the Nicomachi and the Symmachi (400 CE).  The two panels exhibit classically fashioned women participating in Pagan rituals.  According to Kleiner, “the classical tradition in art lived on and was never fully extinguished in the Middle Ages (228).”

Diptych of Nicomachi and Symmachi

Diptych of Nicomachi and Symmachi

Late Antique art employs several repeating themes with significance to both Jewish and Christian beliefs.  Stories from Old Testament or Jewish tradition were believed to represent “prefigurations of New Testament persons and events (213).”  One example of this type of comparison, or typology, is the story of Jonah corresponding with Christ’s resurrection.  Jonah’s tale is illustrated by the painted ceiling in a cubiculum in the Catacomb of Saints Peter and Marcellinus (early fourth century) and the Santa Maria Antiqua Sarcophagus.

Painted Ceiling from a cubiculum in the Catacomb of Saints Peter and Marcellinus

Painted Ceiling from a cubiculum in the Catacomb of Saints Peter and Marcellinus

Other common anecdotes include Adam and Eve (Jesus and Mary), presented in the Catacomb of Peter and Marcellinus and the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus, the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham (sacrifice of Jesus by God) and the trial of Daniel and the lions (Jesus’ resurrection or victory over death), both displayed by the Bassus coffin.  These stories would have been utilized to promote conversion from Judaism to Christianity and to reinforce religious tenets through stories, which are easily represented by Late Antique abstraction.  Purely Christian iconography is also common.  Jesus is frequently depicted as the “good shepherd” attending to his flock, as in the Catacomb of Peter and Marcellinus, the Santa Maria Antiqua Sarcophagus, and the entrance wall mosaic from the Galla Placidia (425 CE).

Galla Placidia

Galla Placidia

Other important events from the life of Jesus are plentiful, but portrayals of the passion and crucifixion, like folio 8 from the Rossano Gospels (early sixth century) and the Suicide of Judas and Crucifixion of Christ (420 CE) plaque from a luxury item, ivory box, were not customary until later in the period.

Rossano Gospels

Rossano Gospels

Suicide of Judas and Crucifixion of Christ

Suicide of Judas and Crucifixion of Christ

Early Christian artists chose to “emphasize Christ’s divinity and exemplary life as teacher and miracle worker (215).”  This archetype would have indulged the Pagan institutions of philosophy and mythology.  Overall, Late Antique representations reveal their roots in both Early Greek/Roman classicism and Late Empire abstraction, while laying the groundwork for the “otherworldly splendor” of Byzantine art (224).

Miracle of the loaves and fishes

Miracle of the loaves and fishes

Source:

Kleiner, Fred S.  Gardner’s Art Through the Ages.  Boston: Wadsworth, 2010.  Print.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: