Greek and Roman cultures are unique phenomena in world culture heritage. Their artworks remain the brilliant example of human genius of all times.
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The artists of a country where Mathematics, Logic and Philosophy were found succeeded in properly applying those three important sciences into architectural artworks. As Kleiner fairly noticed, “classical Greek architecture, like classical music, has a simple core theme with a series of complex but always quite intelligible variations, developed from it” (p.109). To the Greek mode of thinking, sculpture and architecture proportion is similar to the music harmony implying the harmony of the surrounding world.
The central part in Greek architecture was occupied by temple construction. Greek temples were the embodiment of the nation’s beliefs and philosophy. Each building connected with religious preferences was the clear confirmation of Greek respect to their Gods. The Parthenon is such an example.
Though the primary function of Pantheon was a temple, now it is considered to be an eternal symbol of ancient Greece and democracy. It was built on the Athenian Acropolis in a time period between 447 and 438 BC. The previous temples were constructed with wet bricks and wood. That is why they were not able to stand till nowadays. The Parthenon was raised with limestone, material rather solid and lasting than wood and bricks. The architectural conception of this temple does not differ from general construction theory. The essence of the theory is the following.
The remarkable order, compactness and symmetry of the Greek scheme strike the eye first, reflecting the Greeks’ sense of proportion and their effort to achieve ideal forms in terms of regular numerical relationships and geometric rules. Whether the plan is simple or more complex, no fundamental change occurs in the nature of the units or of their grouping (Kleiner, p.109).
Figural decorations, presented in the form of sculptures and columns, were used to beautify gods’ temples. In some way they were used to convey the divinity hidden inside or to keep sacred promises.
Scientific researches point out that the Parthenon measures and proportions are close to the golden ratio dimensions. Golden rectangles rule may be observed on the façade of this building.
It should be borne in mind that the Roman art is not simply ancient ruins and relics which still can be observed nowadays. Being the warlike nation and conquering territories of European states of those times, Romans assimilated partially with other nations, borrowing their habits, traditions and attitudes.
From the early Republic to the later Empire the art and culture of Classical and Hellenistic Greece strongly influenced the art of the Romans (Walker, p.5). Romans borrowed Greek Gods, architecture elements, and cultural peculiarities. On of the most eminent architectural monuments of Roman times is the Arch of Constantine, built between 312 and 315 AD to honour the victory triumph of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. The Arch is the largest construction in Rome. That is why pure marble was not enough to create it. Thus, marble from other already existing artworks. Numeral sculptural decorations and columns were borrowed from earlier monuments. As Kleiner notices, “the reuse of statues and reliefs on the Arch of Constantine has been cited as evidence of a decline and technical skill in the waning years of the pagan Roman Empire” (p.202). Though there exists another opinion that such a concept aims to praise the emperor in battles as well as in his everyday duties.
The Arch’s message was clear to the citizens of Rome at the time; by linking himself and his victories to the great victories of past emperors he legitimize his rule. The Arch also symbolized continuity from the great Caesars of days gone by (Zeleznikar, p.56).
To sum it up, I would like to say that comparing two chosen artworks I came to the conclusion that they differ not only in time and place of their making but also in their purposes and ideas.
The Parthenon made of limestone aimed to serve as an inner cultural artifact: a religious temple. Perhaps the Greeks did not have a goal to leave it to modern generations as a great monument, but they used solid material to make the building more lasting than wooden ones.
As the opposite to the Parthenon, the Arch of Constantine aimed to be another wonder of the world. Moreover, it is the example of big ambitions and great honor of the Roman Empire and its noble Emperors even after death.
Kleiner, F. S. (2008). Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: A Global History. Wadsworth: Cengage Learning EMEA.
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Walker, S. (1991). Roman Art. London: Harvard University Press.
Zeleznikar, A. (2002). Rome Explorations: the Ancient Rome Walking Tour. Victoria: Trafford Publishing.