Ancient Art in the Ancient World Polykleitos Essay

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Ancient Art

Art in the Ancient World

Polykleitos, Doryphoros (early fourth century BC)

As Paul Johnson (2003) notes, this ancient example of Greek classicalism "epitomizes a canon of male beauty embodied in mathematical proportions" (p. 63). Showing the perfection of contraposto, Doryphoros (or the spear-carrier) is a balanced representation of the body's muscles. Polykleitos, a contemporary of Phidias, had his own school of young artists, which carried on into the third century BC. Polykleitos' works are treated on in his own treatise, called "The Canon," which gave explicit attention to symmetry, clarity, and wholeness, and helped steer the direction of Grecian art and sculpture. The Spear-carrier is one of the best examples of Polykleitos' teaching -- however, this example is a copy of his original, and is held in Naples -- a fitting representation of the art of Greek sculpting. It also serves as a good example of the relationship that existed between art and culture: the Spear-Carrier serves as a model of Grecian beauty -- the athletic warrior type who also exhibits grace and dignity. This genre of art went on to influence centuries of Greek culture to come, culminating in the artworks of the time of Pericles -- which were a celebration of the Greek victories over Persia.

Hellenistic Period: Epigonos of Pergamon, The Dying Gaul (c. 225 BC)

This unique work of Greek art is singular for the fact that it is a kind of sympathetic gesture to what the Greeks would have considered a barbarian -- the warrior Gaul. Coming out of the end of the Hellenistic period -- that period of Alexander the Great (the Macedonian who subjugated nearly the entire known world before his young death but granted some of Greece a breadth of freedom to govern itself) -- and the beginning of the Roman invasion, The Dying Gaul displays all the sensitivity, tragedy, and pathos that Greek culture now emphasized. Its days of glory and idealism were over (they had flourished under the reign of Pericles, when the artist Phidias was at the height of his power developing the statue of Athena for the Parthenon). As Johnson says, "The earlier artists celebrated the ideal joys of man, the later ones his real tragedy" (p. 67).

Etruscan: Bronze Statue of Mars (420 BC)

The Etruscans copied the Grecian style of art -- even though they "did not carve much in marble" (Johnson, p. 78). Like the Egyptians, the Etruscans carved in hardstone. But they also conducted eloquent bronze work. Etruscan art had its own unique style, which also went on to serve as a base for Roman art during the time of the Republic. Both Etruscan and Grecian works influenced the Roman Republic. This statue of Mars, hollow and cast in seven bronze pieces, testifies to the imagination of the Etruscans -- and to the refinement with which the Etruscan culture applied its trade. This work of art reveals the kind of bridge that the Etruscans were between Greece and Rome -- already they had borrowed the Greek mythology and adapted it and expressed in it art forms. The bronze statues such as this one of Mars would influence the civilization to worship the Grecian gods, and the Etruscan culture would itself influence the bronze work of the time by giving it a nobility and beauty that it heretofore lacked.

Roman Republic: The Aqueducts (Pont du Gard -- 1st century BC)

The Roman Republic combined artistic beauty with engineering ability to create one of the most stunning artifacts of the ancient world: the Roman Aqueducts. The Pont du Gard, for example, is a three-tiered arched-structure that reaches 150 feet in height and carried water over a distance of 30 miles. The aqueducts were more than utilities: they were ornamental, graceful expressions of Roman pride and ingenuity.

The first aqueduct appeared in Rome in 312 BC during the reign of the censor Appius Claudius Caecus; called the Aqua Appia, it was about 16.5 km in length and carried water from the Apennine Mountains into the city, which was in need of a water supply (Dembskey). Over the next five hundred years, Rome would develop eleven aqueducts within the city. Many of the aqueducts were constructed underground to keep the water from becoming polluted or to…[continue]

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