Art Timeline  
  1 c. 15000 - 5000 BC Prehistoric Art
  2 5000 BC - 5ОО BC The Art of the Ancient Kingdoms of Egypt - Aegean Art
  3-4 5ОО вс - 12th century The Art of the Greeks
  5-6 5ОО вс - 12th century Italic Art
  7-8-9 12th century (1100-1199) The Early Christians  Art - Byzantine Art
  10-11 13th century (1200-1299) Gothic Art
  12 14th century (1300-1399) Gothic Art - International Style
  13 15th century (1400-1499) The Early Renaissance
  14 16th century (1500-1599) The High Renaissance
  15-16 16th century (1500-1599) Mannerism
  17-18-19-20 17th century (1600-1699) Baroque
  21-22 18th century (1700-1799) Rococo
  23-24-25-26-27-28-29 19th century(18001899) Neoclassical - Romanticism
    19th century (1863-1899) Impressionism Timeline
    19th century (1860-1899) Simbolism
    20th century(1900-1999) ART OF THE 20TH CENTURY
5ОО вс - 12th century
see also:
Art in Pompeii & Herculaneum
Column of Trajan
  Art in Pompeii & Herculaneum
Archaic Vase Painting
Ancient Greek Sculpture
Lysippos - Praxiteles
Italic Art
Public Building

Vitruvius resorted to Greek architectural models to offer families homes that were attractive and comfortable, to provide the public with arcades and basilicas, and to dedicate to the gods temples that were both decorous and well-proportioned. During Augustus' reign, the construction of public utilities assumed an importance that had previously been unknown in Mediterranean countries. Technical advancement and the testing of original inventions were the responsibility of the town magistracies, the public works offices, and the curators or commissioners of the various areas of production. Motivated by contractors who were conscious of their civic and electoral responsibilities, architects from Asia (such as Quintus Mutius) developed the techniques that enabled works to be mass-produced: for example, the stone arch based on re-usable wooden frames; concrete vaulting; and paved roads over uniform drainage beds. The organizational skills of the Latins were applied to a slave economy. Specialized manual work was reduced to a minimum, and unlimited scope given to general construction work. Different types of facing were used for concrete walls. Ordinary stonemasonry (opus quadratum) gradually gave way to walls of mass concrete in which the mixture was poured into a casing constructed with two sides of small stone blocks. The pieces were initially irregular in shape (opus incertum). and work proceeded slowly because they had to be fixed together; the concrete pieces were then made into a more standard form in the shape of small pyramids with square bases (opus reticulatum), which were quicker to assemble. Under Augustus, true bricks came to be used widely and were produced in vast quantities. Only a few experts were needed to supervise the large workforces engaged in extracting, refining, and mixing the clay, moulding the bricks, drying them, and firing them in kilns, then letting them stand and eventually transporting them. The economy of the whole process, guaranteed by seals stamped on the bricks, was the monopoly of the emperor. He gave his personal blessing to finished works, using his name on the dedicatory inscription for perpetuity, as public benefactor.

Pantheon, Home.
This splendid edifice was originally constructed by Agrippa in 27bc

The Gaze of Rome

The Roman mood of confidence and resolution, which proclaimed itself heir to the Hellenic tradition and asserted its authority, can also be seen in portraits of individuals. In the words of Virgil (Aeneid, vi. 847-53): "Others...shall hammer forth more delicately a breathing likeness out of bronze, coax living faces from the marble.... But you, Roman, must remember that you have to guide the nations by your authority, for this is to be your skill, to graft tradition into peace, to show mercy to the conquered, and to wage war until the haughty are brought low." Whether from the faces of those who managed the system, such as the Emperor or the magistrates, or ordinary men and women. Rome's gaze follows us. Allegorical statues and portraiture depicted a distinctive Roman face wearing a proud look that in ancient Greece denoted respect for particular schools, traditions, and institutions. Rome was a veritable museum of styles, where models from any period in the past could be assembled. Public monuments and celebratory portraits combined to reflect the taste and aspirations of each imperial dynasty.

Portrait of Nero
with beard inspired
by Greek philosophers.
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

The Julio-Claudian Dynasty

Portraits of the Emperor Tiberius adl4-37), who succeeded his father-in-law Augustus, retain the classicizing features favoured by his predecessor, while those of Caligula (ad37-41) show a certain delicacy in the shading of the cheeks and the soft light in the eyes. Claudius (ad411-54), who had studied Italian and Etruscan antiquity, reflected on the
components of Roman culture. In one work, he harks back to the early foreign kings - Numa Pompilius was a Sabine, while Tarquinius Priscus was the son of the Corinthian Demaratus and an Etruscan mother, and Servius Tullius, who rose to be king, was the son of a prisoner. Portraits of Claudius echo the manner of the first heirs of Alexander in their monumentality. From the outset, Nero (ad54-68) abandoned the simple, arid sculptural tradition of the Augustan age. He wears a beard, modelled on the Greek philosophers, his face is soft and fleshy, and his eyes are deep-set and with shadows, suggesting a restless personality. The so-called "fourth style" was adopted for wall-paintings such as those in the House of the Vettii at Pompeii, which pre-date the earthquake of ad62. The composition is still symmetrical in the theatrical tradition of the "second style", but with a wholly new type of landscaped architectural background that opens up the entire wall to the viewer. The figures, which stand out from the decorative surroundings, lend a spiritual atmosphere. The design is executed with consummate skill, the perspective is sharp, and the quality of the painting is very high. An increased depth of space creates more tension between foreground and background, while slender, entwined garlands link the colonnades with the crossbeams of the airy loggias that stand out against the clear sky. A vital element of the scene is the light, which graduates gently from the dense luminosity of the realistic still-life subjects in the foreground to the transparent shadows that soften the details of the distant landscape. After upheavals in the economy and in Nero's dealings with the Senate (ad64), his policies took on a Hellenistic tendency: in his portraits, the beard and hairstyle become curly, the cheeks plump, and the lower lip fleshy and protruding; his eyes look upwards, like those of Alexander. At the entrance to the Domus Aurea (Golden House), the residence built by Nero after the great fire of ad64 had destroyed much of Rome, the bronze worker Zenodoros erected a colossal statue of Nero wearing the radiate crown of the sun. The design of the palace was faithful to Hellenistic-landscape architecture.

Imaginary architectural scene in a fresco
from the House of the Vettii, Pompeii



The fire that devastated Rome in the tenth year of Nero's reign (ad61) affected a large part of the emperor's Domus Transitoria ("temporary home), which occupied the imperial lands of the Palatine and Esquiline hills, from where the emperor watched the conflagration. His sumptuous new residence, the Domus Aurea (Golden House), was planned on a grand scale rivalling Greek or Oriental counterparts, with natural parks, country villas, and a huge network of luxurious buildings for accommodating and entertaining guests. The scheme-was subsequently copied in Domitian's uncompleted villa situated in the Alban Hills and in Hadrian's Villa built at Tivoli. One of the domestic wings, buried below the Baths of Trajan, was rediscovered at the end of the 15th century. The decoration of the vaults of what had become grottos inspired and gave its name to the "grotesque" style that emerged during the Renaissance. The decoration was the work of Fabullus, a painter noted for the colour and splendour of his gilded stuccowork. The ceilings and walls were adorned with lively mythological frescos in the so-called "fourth style".

Plan of a residential quarter of Nero's Domus Aurea in Rome

Detail showing the transportation of a dead hind from a sarcophagus depicting the myth of Hippolytus.
Museo Arqueo-logico Provincial, Tarragona, Spain


The myth of Hippolytus, the innocent and tragic son of Theseus, was a popular subject that frequently appeared in the decoration of funeral monuments. In the absence of Theseus, Hippolytus' lustful stepmother Phaedra made advances towards him. which he rejected. She then hanged herself, leaving for her husband a letter in which she accused the prince of raping her. On Theseus' return, he banished his son and used one of three wishes given to him by Poseidon to dispose of the alleged culprit and restore the family honour. While Hippolytus was driving his chariot along the seashore, a bull emerged from the water and terrified the horses; Hippolytus was thrown from the chariot and trampled to death by his horses. Theseus later learned the truth from Artemis. Based on a painting by Antiphilus, a sarcophagus made in Athens (c.ad23O) and exported to Tarragona illustrates the whole story. The cruel climax is powerfully depicted on the rear of the tomb in a surprisingly modern style. The modelling stands out from the background in slight relief and the complex composition is made striking by its stark realization. The interplay of the elements of the myth - the sea personified as Thalassa startled by the bull; the foreshortened chariot; the god heedlessly dispensing justice; the messenger in the presence of Theseus - creates a choral lament for the victim and sharply reminds us of our fate.

This scene from the same sarcophagus shows the departure of Hippolytus

Rear face of the sarcophagus,
illustrating Hippolytus trampled by the horses and killed by the bull of Poseidon,
seen in the background with the trident


The Flavian Dynasty

The intermixing of Hellenic and Roman elements in imperial art is evident in the portraits of Nero's successor Vespasian (ad69-79). Those designed for private appreciation placed emphasis on past republican realism, evoking the emperor's military background, while those for public consumption show a harder face with classical features. The theories behind the wall-paintings of Nero's reign found wider practical application in stucco decoration, which was ideally suited to the subtle realism of the "fourth style". In the decoration of a villa at Stabiae, incomplete at the time of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius (ad79), a portrait of Narcissus with architectural details and skilful depiction of the young man's delight at his reflection in the water reveals the artist's virtuosity.

The myth of Narcissus,
stucco relief, Stabiae.
Antiquarium, Castellammare di Stabia, Italy

A feeling of transience pervades the work: the foliage, the soft feathers of the cupid's wing, and the blaze of the torch. The changing quality of the light lends definition to the angles of the youth's body and the strong lines of his face and hair. The varying effects of daylight, sometimes sharp and focused, at other times diffused or flickering, as if drawn from the flow of the stucco, enliven the images, creating abstractions of light and shade that were to become the ghost of the classical form, evoked with an independence of expression that would not be seen again until the Renaissance bas-reliefs of Donatello. On a monumental scale, the freedom of Flavian art is evident in the Arch of Titus, erected by Domitian (ad81-96) on his accession. Its purpose was to illustrate, in a symbolic sense, the victory over Judaea, which had been celebrated a decade earlier by his brother Titus and their father Vespasian. On the northern panel, the figure of Titus is shown alone in his triumphal chariot, flanked by Victory who crowns him, while the horses are led by the goddess Roma. They are followed by personifications of the Senate and the Roman people. The rods and axes (known as fasces) carried by the lictors (attendants) as symbols of their authority are angled to the background, conveying the depth of the scene. The other frieze deals with documented history, specifically the episode that marked the achievement of the age. We witness the transportation of the sacred objects looted from the Temple of Jerusalem: the seven-branched candelabrum and the Ark of the Covenant with the trumpets of Jericho; the tablets held aloft contain information about conquered cities. Whereas the procession represented on the Ara Paris follows a straight line, in this work both scenes follow a curve, giving prominence to the central section where the sculpture juts out in relation to the bas-relief of the heads in the distance. Passion breaks through the surface in dramatic contrasts of light and shade, and the formality of the structure is overshadowed by the content, with its passionate celebration of Rome and its people. In reviving the epic ardour of Hellenism, the artist makes a deliberate display of expressionism to convey a sense of excitement and turmoil. The horses rear up in the air. and the rhythmical movements of the bearers create an atmosphere of frenzied fervour, which can still be witnessed today, in some Mediterranean countries, during Catholic processions in which sacred objects are borne. There is a strong internal structure to the composition. The chariot is the unifying element of the design and holds together the twisting mass around it. bringing the tumult of the action into a single, organic whole. The notion of an internal impetus exploding throughout the work is reminiscent of the powerful Gigantomachia on the Pergamum altar. By positioning a splendid group of animals in the centre of the work, the artist again conveys the message of a triumphant, immutable destiny. The few images of Domitian that survived the destruction of the statues decreed by the Senate's damnatio memoriae after his assassination symbolize, in their variety, the entire imperial experiment, derived from a mixture of the realism imposed by Vespasian and the adherence to various phases of Hellenic art.

Arch of Titus, Rome Detail of relief showing the victory of Titus, Arch of Titus

Detail of relief showing the victory of Titus, Arch of Titus, Rome.
Here, the spoils from the Temple of Jerusalem are displayed in a triumphal procession

Detail of relief showing the victory of Titus, Arch of Titus, Rome.
This scene depicts the actual triumphal procession with the toga-clad Titus in the chariot


No other classicizing tendency of the ancient or modern world was as intent on recognizing itself in archetype as the world of Hadrian (ad117-138). In expressing their personal vision of the emperor, the great I Iellenic masters of the age seemed united in their adaptation of classical models to the realities of modern life. Antinous, a beautiful youth from Bithynia, was the beloved favourite of the Emperor Hadrian. When he died in Egypt in ad130, his image inspired artists to follow" in the footsteps of the great Greek sculptors, Calamis, Phidias, and Praxiteles, reverting to the ancient figurative tradition in order to portray contemporary power in aesthetic, philosophical, and religious terms. Perfect models were to be found in mythology, from which portraits of Antinous assumed the body and attitudes of heroes and deities. The relief carved in Rome by Antonianus of Aphrodisias is original in its elevation of the ordinary to the devine. Wearing a pine crown, like Silvanus, the god of forests and uncultivated land.
Antinous is shown as a typical forester with his short tunic and hill-hook. The dog standing at the side of Antinous emphasizes the funereal nature of the image of Silvanus, reinforced by analogy with Attic stelae. In this sacred, Alexandrian-style landscape, the vine alludes to Bacchus. The Greek signature of the scuptor has been placed at the side of an altar, which is surmounted by fruits from the bloodless offering. If the position of the arms is reversed, the figure of Antinous recalls the Dorvphorus of Polykleitos, while the face reflects the sadness of a period of uncertainty: it draws on Attic dogma, while retaining contemporary reactions and feelings.

Fragmentary statue of Antinous.
Archaeological Museum, Delphi
Antonianus of Aphrodisias, relief of Antinous as Silvanus,
Torre del Padiglione, between ancient Lanuvium and Antium.
Private Collection, Rome

Nerva (ad96-98), an elderly senator and the first of the Antonine Emperors, introduced the system of adoption into the imperial succession. This emperor had an aristocratic, asymmetrical elegance to his face, an "inimitable" quality for which the last Ptolemies of Egypt had striven in their portraits. His adopted successor. Trajan (ad98-117) - who, born in southern Spain, was the first emperor born outside Italy - went to the opposite extreme of the ambiguous iconography of Domitian. His preference for solid, monumental realism suggests the deep determination of this military leader in its strict formal equilibrium. The Roman historian Tacitus observed that innumerable descendants of freed slaves were among the noblemen and senators living in the reign of Trajan. After a century of victories and crises, the government embarked with renewed vigour on a variety of enterprises whereby Rome was embodied, publicly and privately - whether by the state, the emperor, or individual citizens - in the form of a warrior. The military fringe haircut was encouraged, and every artistic representation geared to promote the sense of power.
Trajan's Forum (ad107-113) represented the marble heart of the eternal city, an immense fortified encampment, the outpost of an aggressive military machine. The basilica was positioned as the principis (headquarters) of the castrum (fort), the libraries as the archives of the legions, and the Column marked the site in the parade ground where the standards were venerated. The decorative scheme of the Column was charged with metaphor, with commanders alternating with shields on the exterior, a triumphal chariot over the entrance, a colossal equestrian statue of Trajan in the centre of the square, and around him crowds of chained barbarians, stunned witnesses and victims of this great glory. The column, in a human touch, brings in its recounting of the two Dacian wars, a certain sense of compassion for the victims.

Bronze cipeus (roundel) of Trajan.
Archaeological Museum, Ankara.
Trajan led the campaigns of ad113-116 against
the Parthians and died on the wav home in Cilicia


Trajan's Column, Rome

The column was erected as the centrepiece of the Forum of Trajan, between the Basilica Ulpia and the Greek and Latin libraries (ad110-113). The recess in its base housed a golden urn containing the ashes of the emperor. The parian marble frieze of the column, exceeds 200 metres (650 feet) in length and follows a spiral course around the column, which is about 30 metres (100 feet) high. Recounting the two wars against the Dacians (ad101-106). which on the Column are separated by the image of Victory writing on a shield, the narrative is based upon contemporary sketches made to reconstruct the campaign in triumphal paintings. Just as Alexander had his court artists. Trajan had a military engineer, Apollodorus of Damascus, who used his avid eye for details of landscape, animals, clothing, and weapons to document with technical precision boats, engines of war. watchtowers. forts, city buildings, and encampments. The events begin at the bottom of the column with the signals of the sentries on the Danube. The tranquility is suddenly shattered by the peasant tumbling from his mule in front of the emperor: it is perhaps an omen, the meaning of which is lost because the Commentaries of the Dacian War, compiled by Trajan himself, have not survived, but this does not detract from the satisfying effect. According to the ancient Greek style of historic illustration, the different races, both among the Roman auxiliaries and the allies of the Dacians. are scrupulously characterized. Jove, armed with a thunderbolt, intervenes in support of his favourites at the first battle of Tapae, just as Zeus does in a statuary group of Alexander at Sagalassus (Turkey).

The glory of the victors is dampened in this narrative by the cruelty of the massacre: for example, an auxiliary grips the hair on the head of a decapitated enemy between his teeth. Numerous scenes illustrate troops on the move, addresses to the soldiers, field battles, infantry and cavalry actions in various types of terrain, and sieges. Each of them ends with the flight of the enemy and the capture or surrender of its leaders. Various exemplary actions of the emperor are also depicted, punctuated by ritual deeds that invite the observer to look beyond the detail and recognize the reassuring values of the event and the strength of the political structure behind it. The narrative concludes at the top of the column with a flock of sheep passively pushed on by the deported population; these animals vanish in the last spiral of the frieze where the fluting of the huge column reappears. The idyllic naturalism of the style of Alexandria is realistically interpreted to provide a setting for contemporary history in a show of inexorable might. Objective portrayal and epic vision unite to produce an emotional atmosphere that is shared by the artist, the figures, and, ultimately, the observers themselves in its implication that the rule of Rome is rooted in the permanent reality of nature.

Detail's of Trajan s Column, Rome

Detail's of Trajan s Column, Rome

Detail's of Trajan s Column, Rome

Detail's of Trajan s Column, Rome

Detail's of Trajan s Column, Rome


This fragment from a composition in the "fourth style" shows the portraits of a man and woman viewed in the Etruscan-style pose. The man, with his markedly Mediterranean features, is thought by some to be the lawyer Terentius Xeus. Others believe him to be an unknown magistrate dressed in his white toga and clutching a scroll, but it is widely held that he is Paquius Proculus, a baker, whose shop lay adjacent to the house containing the painting. The elevated quality of life of the couple, which we could call upper middle class, is shown in the refined dress and elegant hairstyle of the woman, who has a stylus in her right hand and a two-leafed wax tablet on which to write. According to longstanding convention, the skin of the male is tanned while that of the woman is lighter.

First century ad, fresco from Pompeii.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples


Publius Aelius Hadrianus (ad76-138). successor to Trajan, was an intellectual who during his 20 years of government expressed his personal vision as writer, architect, and artist. With the technical assistance of Decrianus
(Demetrianus) he moved the Colossus of Nero and built the Temple of Venus and Roma in its place. He also rebuilt the Pantheon and designed his own funerary mausoleum (now the Castel Sant'Angelo). In Britain, Hadrian planned the 120-kilometre (75-mile) long wall that bears his name. His villa at Tivoli perfectly embodied the imperial dream, evoking idyllic places such as the Nile and the Vale of Tempe. It was a lavishly decorated complex, made up of living quarters with reception rooms, porticos, baths, a theatre, grottos, vistas, and underground storerooms. He also recreated parts of famous buildings such as the Erechtheum at Athens and the Temple of Aphrodite at Cnidos. Hadrian fell ill in about ad137 and moved to Baiae, where he died.

Bust of Hadrian.
Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Ostia.


The supposed architect of Trajan's Forum, Apollodorus of Damascus, fell from grace under Hadrian (ad117-138) for his severe criticism of the emperor's plan for the Temple of Venus in Rome. The double building, with colossal proportions, explicitly linked the sanctity of Rome to the goddess whom Caesar and Augustus claimed presided over the city's fortunes. Hadrian's other lasting tribute to Rome's immortality was the rebuilding of the Pantheon with its marvellous dome.
The massive circular interior (spanned by a dome with an opening in the centre) was punctuated by the "houses" of the planetary deities, and the pediment, with the bronze eagle inside a crown, combined the symbols of Aion (eternity). Naturally, grandiose monuments such as these advertised the prestige of Rome, but the emperor (like Trajan, of Iberian origin) also enhanced its reputation by his frequent travels and his desire to bring unity to his dominions. As the emperor's image became more familiar, it developed in the many lines of coinage with different representations according to each province. The highest expressions of these personifications are in the reliefs surrounding the Roman temple at Rome dedicated to Hadrian after his death by his successor Antoninus Pius (AD138-161).

Interior of the Pantheon, Rome



The personality of Hadrian has been maginatively encapsulated in Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar (1951), a modern "autobiography" ostensibly written by the emperor for his adopted grandson Marcus Aurelius Hadrian's enlightened cultural policy particularly in restoration, is reflected in a letter written to him by the historian Arrian, then governor of Cappadocia, at the end of a journey of inspection along the coast of the Black Sea (c.ad130):
"We arrived at Trapezus (Trebizond), the Greek city of which Xenophon once spoke, and I was moved to see the Euxine Bridge from the spot where Xenophon, and you yourself, looked down on it. The aitars are still there, but the stone is so rough that the letters are no longer distinct, and the Greek inscription was engraved with several errors by the barbarians: so decided to rebuild them in white marble and to provide them with a new epigraph in clear letters. The situation of your statue, facing the sea, is fine, but it does not look like you nor is it well executed. Arrange to send a statue worthy of your name, in the same pose. The spot is absolutely right for a lasting memorial."

Gold coin (aureus) depicting Hadrian in profile.
Museo Civico Archeologico, Bologna

During the reign of the Antonines. society was more prosperous and content than ever before. In particular, the reign of Marcus Aurelias marked the peak of ancient civilization as well as the beginning of its end. The orator Aelius Aristides commented on the universal benefits brought about by Roman rule yet sought in vain a vestige of personal happiness through mystical remedies. The government's authoritarian actions, though far-sighted and efficient, left a spiritual void. In the reliefs on the Antonine Column, begun by Commodus after his father's death in ad180, the Romans continued their disciplined offensive against the world but they were troubled by the irrational. Faith in the Olympian divinities was questioned. In comparison with Trajan's Column, fewer and shorter sacrificial scenes are shown. In the former, the appearance of Jupiter was enough to encourage the army. Now the earthly results of divine intervention must be shown - such as the thunderbolt that sets on fire a war engine close to the fort sheltering the emperor. When the thirstv Romans were saved by a rainstorm, the cloud assumed the guise of a terrifying old man, who stretched his enormous wings over the enemy hosts to wash them away. Such a miracle could be attributed to the prayers of the Christians, many of whom now marched with the legions. In addressing the troops the Emperor stands on a tall
podium between two generals. Crushed by the repetitive burdens of service, the figures of soldiers lack variety in individual features and spontaneous gestures. The same faces are seen in the marches of soldiers fatigued by the constant readiness for battle. Whereas the frieze on the Trajan Column held minute details that could be read from surrounding balconies, everything on the Antonine column had to be viewed from below, so the illustrated narrative band was larger, the separation of the episodes was clearly defined, and the figures were taller and stood out against the landscape, which was no more than conventional map markings. There was no more place for mercy towards an enemy. Hence countless images of defeated, humiliated, and slain barbarians with the spears, swords, and even the feet of the Romans immobilizing the barbarians in an effort to exorcize their growing threat.

Stone relief work from the base of the Antonine Column depicts the
military parade that marked the cremation of the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius.
Marcus Aurelius erected the monument in honor of Antoninus,
whom he had succeeded as emperor in 161ad

Detail of the Antonine Column, Rome.
Here Marcus Aurelius addresses the army during the war against the Quadi

Detail of the Antonine Column, Rome.
In this section, German nobles are decapitated in the presence of the army

Marcus Aurelius

Rome's system of adoption, which produced the most enlightened rulers the Western world has ever seen, was celebrated by Marcus Aurelius (AD161-180) in the frieze of the Parthian monument built at Ephesus in memory of Lucius Verus. who died prematurely in ad169. One panel portrays three generations of the family, with Hadrian on the right. Antoninus Pius in the centre, his hand on the shoulder of the young Lucius Verus and, on the left, Marcus Aurelius. Hadrian's Neo-Hellenic features are reminiscent of the sad funerary groups of Attic stelae, which were used to bring humanity to the imperial message. In a display of theoretical speculation allied to Roman pragmatism, the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius combined meditation with military action, defending the Danubian frontiers in person. Equally, the figurative art in canings that illustrate his ritual activities (such as those kept in the Palazzo dei Conseivatori and others re-used in the Arch of Constantine) reveal a variety of subjects illustrating Roman custom: merciful treatment of the defeated enemy; triumph and sacrifice to the gods; return from war; purification of the army; investiture of a foreign prince; address to the troops; presentation of prisoners; surrender of barbarian chiefs; donation of gifts to the people; and departure of a new-expedition. These are the peaceable images of the twilight of the dynasty.

Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius (before restoration), bronze.
Piazza del Campidoglio, Rome


In this bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius. the emperor's features powerfully convey his strong personality and his disposition for abstract thought. The face is elongated, making him resemble his son Commodus. who was represented together with his father in the equestrian group on the latter's death in ad180. The maker of the statue used the bold, simplifying technique that is commonly found on tombs: rounded, juxtaposed geometric forms and regular planes, taking inspiration from Greek models. Hellenic influence is also evident in the beard, which radiates evenly from the clean shape of the face. A solid, archaic structure emphasized the sanctity of the subject. The impassioned tone of the images of the Antonines is also felt in the dynamic tension. The facial features are defined by light. Preserved for eternity in his philosophical pose (ethos), he returns to the living world to extend his hand to his son who rode alongside. Marcus Aurelius is now remembered particularly for his twelve books of Meditations, in which he records his Stoic-views on life.


On the death of Antoninus Pius (ad161), his sons Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus dedicated a column to him. The shaft was a monolith of granite measuring almost 15 metres (50 feet) in height, surmounted by a statue of the divine Emperor. All that remains of the column is the carved base with the inscription and scene of the apotheosis. The scene is set by the goddess Roma, who wears a helmet and is sitting by a pile of weapons, and opposite the personification of the Roman people, significantly linked by the left arm to the obelisk of Octavian from the Campus Martius - the place where the funeral pyre was set and where the column itself would be raised. Gathered together in memory of the first Augustus who was buried there, the inhabitants of Rome pay their last respects to the dead emperor. The people look forward, as if to their glorious and lasting destiny, to Aion (eternity), which in the form of a winged guardian spirit bears Antoninus and his wife Faustina (died ad141) up to heaven. The flying figure, associated with the revival of the Golden Age. assumes the guise of a cosmic deity. The spirit of the world is represented by the sphere in the youth's left hand and symbolizes the universality of imperial rule. Only the busts of the two rulers, seated side by side with their sceptres, are shown, as was funerary custom; this detail would have made the solemn deification scene familiar to the eyes of the citizens. A pair of eagles in flight complete the work.

Apotheosis of Antoninus and Faustina,
from the base of the Column of Antoninus in fhe Campus Martius (now Piazza di Montecitorio), Home.
Museo Pio-Clementino, Vatican City



Marcus was succeeded by his son Commodus, whose reign (AD180-192) saw the empire drop its offensive policy in favour of a defensive stance. The philosophical soliloquies of Marcus Aurelius ended the period of rational search for truth. Art now broke the structural bonds of classical composition as humanity entrusted itself increasingly to mysticism. Until then, Rome had borne the banner of Greek tradition, remaining faithful to the models of classicism and Hellenism. After the Danubian wars and the plague that killed the emperor, the new avant-garde threw off the fetters of convention and embarked on a course of ideological discover)' that would bring about radical changes in culture and customs and hasten the end of Greek influence.

Allegorical group representing imperial succession through adoption,
from the Parthian Monument Ephesus.
From right: Hadrian, Lucius Verus, Antoninus, and Marcus Aurelius.
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

side figure of a group with Commodus as Hercules,
from the Esquiline.
Palazzo del Conservatori, Rome

head affixed in ancient limes to the statue of Hercules Resting,
copy of the Lysippos statue, from the Palatine in Rome.
Palazzo Pitti, Florence


Compared with the equestrian figure of Marcus Aurelius in the Piazza del Campidoglio, the portraits of Commodus are more human and intimate. The harmony of naturalism and formal style is nowhere better evident than in the final bust of the emperor (ad192), which is displayed in the Palazzo dei Conservatori. Never have the signs of alcoholism been portrayed in so noble a setting: the wasted cheeks, bags under the eyes, and heavy eyelids partly hiding the watery, unfocused eyes.
In Storia Augusta, one senatorial historian described the emperor as having the stupid face of a drunkard but, in fact, these features are allusions to the watery gaze of Alexander and to Dionvsian inebriation. The individual depicted no longer shows any distinction between the human and the divine, the solidity of sculpture and the light of painting. The beard and hair, ruffled by shadows, encircle the smooth skin of the face set in its waxy pallor. The various attributes of the bust differ in their treatment. Commodus, the "Roman Hercules", like his Macedonian predecessor, is dressed in the hide of the Nemean lion Alexander the Great had also been depicted as Herakles. Drapery billows around the emperor's head, lending it flashes of light and shade. The bust stands on a plinth, concealed at the front by carved marble decoration. The whole work balances on the heavenly sphere (another reminder of the ideology of Alexander), on which sits the pelta, the characteristic-shield of the Asiatic people, and the double horn of plenty, a symbol of prosperity in the Ptolemaic kingdom, and thus a reminder of Africa. The western boundary of the empire is represented by the apples of the Hesperides (mythical islands at the western extreme of the world) in the sovereign's left hand.
Carrying a club on his shoulder, the hero who has completed his deeds, introduces mankind to the "Commodian" golden age. The Amazons flanking the trophy illustrate the epithet Amazonius, adopted by the Emperor. It was as an Amazon that he dressed his lover Marcia. who now plotted his death.

Commodus as Hercules,
bust from the Esquiline.
Palazzo del Conservatori, Rome

Detail of the bust of Hercules
showing the marble decoration
that masks the plinth of the bust
Caracallaand the Last of the Severans

Rome's independence from the Hellenic world led to a bewildering modernity and experimentation. In contrast to the almost mystic ambiguity of his father, Caracalla (ad211-217) saw himself in terms of an earthy solidity which led to a new definition of heroism. Just as the tide of classicism swept away the distinctive features of the emperors, so it charged everyone with their own destiny - Caracalla's most famous measure, the Constitutio Antoniniana de Civitate introduced in ad212, had given Roman citizenship to all inhabitants of the empire. The new sense of universality surged irrationally from the depths of the individual, almost in denial of the ideal of virtue. As innovations in style renounced traditional aesthetic sensibilities, so they tended to acclaim violence. The signs of mental disturbance, which in the youthful portraits of Caracalla (who killed his brother Geta in ad212) were masked by convention, later became dramatically evident. Biographers claimed that the representation of the emperor with his neck twisted to the left was an intentional reference to Alexander the Great, with whom Caracalla strongly identified, but in some surviving sculptures this movement distorts the subject in a way that is unprecedented in such images of power. The severity of the features banishes any hint of spirituality, while the contraction of the facial muscles and the brow seen in later examples combine to produce a surly and forbidding expression, which seems to probe the very depths of the brutality of fratricide. In this "new Romulus" there is a feeling of menace that could be generated at will towards internal and external enemies of the regime. Such emotional intensity, veering from light to shadowy darkness, was never attained by classical sculptors. Under Caracalla and his successors, the reliance on inner feelings, alternated with irrational outbursts, became characteristic in both art and politics. For many, actions were valued more than words, and experiences counted more than a yearning for the ideal. This was reflected in sculpture and painting, which adopted forms, expressions, and styles drawn directly from reality. During the reigns of Caracalla, Elagabalus (ad218-222). and Alexander Severus (ad222-225). the art of floor mosaics produced by master-craftsmen and generally in polychrome, was extended to the African regions. In place of mythological themes, emphasis was now placed on contemporary life, with scenes from the amphitheatre and the circus, and of hunts in natural surroundings. Interest in the subject arose from the economic importance to North Africa of the export of wild animals destined for the circuses of Rome and other cities. Man's struggle with the forces of nature was revived from antiquity via Oriental cultures. In a mosaic from Hadrumetum (modern-day Sousse in Tunisia), four bestiarii (gladiators) bring down deer, ostriches, antelopes, and wild horses. The desire for realism extended to the authentic portrayal of heroes of the age. The venatores (hunters) of Hadrumetum vary in age and model different hairstyles; the figures wear a variety of richly embroidered tunics, and carry an assortment of weapons. The medium of the mosaic translated the glowing naturalism of a painting into solid materials and served to perpetuate the solid presence of the empire. In funerary sculpture every detail of a face was carefully reproduced, as were the objects or symbols that defined the personality or status of the dead individual. Death exceeded the aspirations of life, offering a freedom that extended beyond the realms of public activity. Recorded in images and inscriptions on luxurious tombs and modest stelae are the achievements of countless unknown citizens, whether bride or widow, drinker or sage, teacher, scholar, musician, or struggling poet. Tomb portraits were often characterized by symbolic and mythical motifs, which registered the social importance of the departed rather than just the individual nature, addressing the dilemma of human existence at the moment of its extinction. Document of a people and mirror of a society, the cold stone revealed the epic stories of everyday life, the activities of the innumerable farmers, artisans, merchants, and soldiers who helped to run the eternal empire.

House of the Vestal Virgins in Rome.
Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome

Septimius Severus

Helvius Pertinax, successor to Commodus, was killed by the Praetorian Guard after a reign of three months; he was, in turn, succeeded by Septimius Severus (ad193-211). Of African origin, Septimius added foreign gods to the Olympian divinities, even identifying himself with the Egyptian Serapis. Most portraits of him show the curly hair of the deity flowing down over his forehead. In Leptis Magna, where Septimius was born, a four-sided arch decorated with reliefs launched the dynastic programme that was to substitute continuity for adoption. The monument owes its coherence to the work of sculptors from Aphrodisias. The surface is covered with ornate decoration in the same techniques as the narrative panels, namely with deeply drilled holes and grooves. Two sections show the procession staged for the ten-year celebration of the reign, while the others show the agreement between the father and the sons (Caracalla and Geta) designated to assume power, and the religious devotion of the family in a sacrificial scene.

Capitoline Museum, Rome
(formerly Albani Collection)



Having successfully commanded armies all over the empire in his youth, Probus born at Sirmio in Pannonia (Balkans) -was proclaimed emperor in ad276. An important aspect of his policy was to increase agricultural production, and he made use of legionaries for reclamation work and civil duties. When announcing his plan to assimilate barbarians into the empire. Probus declared, "Soon there will be no need for soldiers". A colossal head in the Capitoline Museum shows the upright posture and direct gaze of a man "worthy of the name he bears" (Storia Augusta). The symmetrical wrinkles on his forehead, the sunken eyes, sharp nose, and pursed mouth with furrows on either sicie are sculpted simply, as if on a wooden mask: neat, separate incisions are used for the short haircut. The realism of the asymmetric eyebrows stands out in the solemn squareness of the face. Lines take precedence over modelling, while contours compress volume. The calm, steadfast expression suggests that the imperial crisis has abated - a short-lived dream - and that all anxieties are now dispelled. The emperor conformed to the ancient model of farmer and settler and planted vines with his own hands when he returned with his army to his homeland. The bust perpetuates the story of the soldier from the frontier, who rose to be emperor. His policy, based on the need for justice and peace, became a programme of universal government.


During the reign of Gordian III (ad238-244), the city offices of works created sarcophagi of high quality and originality. The relaxed articulation of space progressed after a brief interval during Caracalla's rule. New techniques heralded a break with academic tradition. The anatomy of heroic figures surpassed that of Greek models; expressionism took on visionary proportions; and drapes and inanimate objects increased in number and significance. The stylization of the obsessively carved detail gave the whole work a metaphysical coherence: the manes of the horses tamed by Castor and Pollux on one sarcophagus from the Appian Way might have inspired the steeds of the 20th-century Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico. In April ad248, Philip the Arabian (ad244-249) celebrated the first millennium of Rome.

Sarcophagus with column decoration depicting a married coupie,
with Castor and Pollux at the sides taming horses.
Via Appia. Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome


Carved from an exceptionally large single block, the Ludovisi Sarcophagus measures 2.75 metres (9 feet) wide, 1.55 metres (5 feet) high and 1.4 metres (4,5 feet) deep. The monument honours Erennius Etruscus, who died with his father Decius at the battle of Abritto (modern-day Razgrad in Bulgaria) against the Goths (ad251).
The image of the general is known from coins and portraits, one of which, in the Capitoline Museum, has the mark of an initiate of the Mithras cult. Judging by the female bust on the lid. his mother Etruscilla was also laid in the sarcophagus. The dense carving of the relief and the extension to all four sides of the tomb of the battle scene, which teems so thickly with figures as to negate the background, are without precedent. The manner in which the frieze develops upwards, as seen on the panels of the arch constructed by Septimius Severus, reveals an affinity with triumphal paintings. The same method was also used by the Baroque painter Pietro da Cortona in his painting of Constantine at the Milvian Bridge (Palazzo dei Conservatori). The figures are arranged along a diagonal line running from the lower left-hand corner, thus separating the two military formations. Rooted in the Stoic acceptance of the passions that disturb the world's equilibrium, universal Greek art and public Roman art are combined in a stirring vision of individual destiny. The clash of opposing armies reflects the duels of classical tradition, but here it is disfigured by cruelty, as testified by the wounded. The single combatants and the soldiers in their formations are portrayed with unsparing realism and yet assume symbolic value: the two large foot-soldiers in the left foreground declare the solidity of the Roman front which has broken the enemy onslaught. In the triangle on the right-hand side, the horde of defeated barbarians have been trampled by the victors into a small space, their distorted limbs locked together in agony. Their drapery seems to shudder in unison with the writhing bodies and their faces resemble theatrical masks of terror and suffering. Above, the line of horses from the left flank advances on the exposed flank to capture the survivors. The battle is over and prisoners are being taken. A legionary drags a bound old man by the beard, while two more at the sides raise trophies, and yet another delivers the coup de grace to a fallen foe. Amid the frenzy of slaughter and barbarian despair, the light moves rhythmically, giving shape to forms and distances, coordinating events, sending a vibrant wave across the heap of corpses, and announcing the turbulent advance of the horsemen. Roman sculpture and relief was generally coloured and this scene would have been even more stunning when the trumpets, weapons, and armour glittered among the purple and blue cloaks. The young hero stands bareheaded and alone in the centre; with an imperial gesture and distant gaze, lie contemplates his destiny as the eternal conqueror. Transcending everything is the pervading idea of victory as the reason for this dark slaughter.

Front and details of the Ludovisi Sarcophagus, showing a battle between the barbarians and the Romans under the command of Erennius Etruscus, son of the Emperor Declus, outside Porta San Lorenzo, Rome. Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome

Front and details of the Ludovisi Sarcophagus, showing a battle between the barbarians and the Romans under the command of Erennius Etruscus, son of the Emperor Declus, outside Porta San Lorenzo, Rome. Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome

Front and details of the Ludovisi Sarcophagus, showing a battle between the barbarians and the Romans under the command of Erennius Etruscus, son of the Emperor Declus, outside Porta San Lorenzo, Rome. Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome


Portraits of the Emperor Gallienus (ad260-268) show-great mastery. In his final years, the image of the Emperor lost the descriptive detail and nervous contraction of the face. The new image had a Hellenic element introduced by artists from Athens who had immigrated to Rome after the city was sacked by the Goths in ad267. Tonal nuances were achieved by the contrast of diffused light on the skin with the rough beard in a rare effect of abstraction quite in contrast to the faces of Hadrian and the Antonines. The upward glance, with the iris partly covered by the eyelid, expresses the mystical side of power and suggests the influence of the philosopher and teacher Plotinus and Neo-Platonist philosophy, which stimulated the desire for religious and moral reforms.

from the House of the Vestal Virgins, Rome.
Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome



Aurelian (ad270-275) restored the unity of the empire, which had been threatened by widespread uprisings both in the west and east. He eliminated the remaining powers of the Senate, and invested himself as god and lord (dens el dominus) of the universe. The destruction of Athens led him to use the military-style architecture of the border provinces for Rome. The city, which in the time of Augustus had expanded in the knowledge that it was secure, was now encircled by turreted brick walls that still remain impressive to this day.


As architecture reached dizzy heights of grandeur, allegorical ornamentation reflected the apparent stability of the empire. Diocletian's reforms brought new respectability to the administrative, political, and moral institutions of the state. They transformed citizens into subjects who were bound by strict discipline, and taxes were introduced to fund the army, repairs to public works, and the construction of grand public buildings. The pyramid of power set tip by the Tetrarchy (the rule by four emperors), reproduced the court of Rome in its new centres of residence: Treviri, Nicomedia, Sirmio, and Milan. The provinces were divided and then grouped into dioceses, and this system was extended to Italy itself. Diocletian (ad285-305), building upon the theocratic ideas of Aurelian, explicitly incorporated within the immense walls of his new monuments signs of the divine power with which he believed the empire to be invested. The largest baths ever built in Rome were dedicated to Jupiter, king of the gods and guardian deity of Diocletian -who adopted the divine surname Jovius. In Milan, the baths took the name of Hercules by order of Maximian, to commemorate his protector. The colossus of Hercules at rest (a fragment of which survives in the Archaeological Museum in Milan) was the centrepiece of the decoration. Diocletian retired to a magnificent palace at Salona, on the edge of the Adriatic ("modern-day Split in Croatia), built like a military camp with polygonal gate-towers, which served as the model for the castle of the Mount of Frederick II on the opposite shore of the Adriatic.

Maxentius and Constantine

Struggles for the succession brought about the dissolution of the system of the Tetrarchy. Maxentius (ad306-312) revived the myth of Rome's foundation and restored the city as the central seat of power. He enlarged the House of Augustus on the Palatine (and was the last emperor to live there), and built on the Appian Way a dynastic complex comprising palace, circus, and the mausoleum of his son Romulus, which in its Pantheon-like form celebrates the immortal memory of Rome's founder. Constantine the Great (ad306-337), who defeated Maxentius at the gates of Rome, had his dreams of a universal monarchy fulfilled in ad313 through the grace of the Christian God - he was the first Roman emperor to embrace Christianity. In the colossal head from the Basilica Nova (built by Maxentius) his despotic nature is underlined in the strong chin, furrowed cheeks, and irregular nose. In contrast to the portraits of Caracalla, Constantine's heroism attains divine majesty in an image that is marked by pride, solemnity, and detachment. The eyes are abnormally large and the wrinkled forehead denotes fixed concentration. The fringe of hair, reminiscent of Trajan's military haircut, is more compact, tracing the line of the weighty crown worn by the emperor.

Colossal head of Constantine Basilica of Maxentius, Rome.
Capitoline Museum. Rome

The victory of Constantine over Licinius in Thrace (ad324) was represented allegorically through the death of Lycurgus, the avowed enemy of Dionysius. The scene is shown on a glass cup in the British Museum, with Lycurgus being overcome by vine shoots. The addition of small quantities of gold and silver to the glass produces a transformation, from green to red, in the transparent colour of the vessel when light shines through it. The achievement of bright colours on such a thick medium implies workmanship of great virtuosity, and suggests that this traditional material was deliberately chosen by the emperor. From the birth of the empire, the technique of glass-blowing made it possible to produce glass that was absolutely pure, easy to handle, capable of being moulded with maximum speed into a variety of shapes, and which lent itself to engraved decoration. The cost-effective production, with an organization that paralleled modern industry, meant that glassware was widely exported and came to characterize material culture. From the capitals of the Tetrarchy to Cologne, Alexandria, and Syria spread techniques of glass manufacture originally used in cameos, namely exquisitely carved "cage cups" (diatreta vasa). In recognition of the need to free his policies from class-ridden conservatism and to pave the way towards a new Europe, Constantine took the following measures: he founded Constantinople or "New Rome" (ad325); he was present as Emperor at the Council of Nicaea (which earned him the description of the "thirteenth apostle''); he reformed the coinage with Christian symbols; he undertook to tie farmers to the land; he permitted the large-scale entry of barbarians into the army; and he accorded privileges to the army under the direct control of the sovereign (comitatentes) in comparison with the border troops (limitanei).

Glass cup depicting the death of Lycurgus.
British Museum London
(formerly Rothschild Collection)


The statues of Tetrarchs (c.ad300) - now immured in St. Mark's basilica in Venice -added a new dimension to the traditional working of porphryry, mined in Egypt at Mons Porphyrites and worked at Alexandria. In the classical style, stone was used exclusiveiy for images of gods or rulers and the St Mark's sculptures combine the two privileged subject types in a metaphor of theocracy. This very hard rock symbolized the primordial essence of sculpture. The three-dimensional mass retains its original weight and character and embraces the rounded figures in a symmetrical, compact group. The faces, aligned vertically, wear the same stiff expression. with a touch of abstraction that prevents any natural variety. The divine nature of the emperors has transformed them into icons with the same surreal look; the gaze is fixed, with prominent eyes, surrounded by a curve accentuated by the brows. Yet for all the facial impassivity and cool formality of the military dress, there is a sense of warm solidarity in the unusual, embracing poses of these imperial figures. Diocletian, Maximianus, Constantius Chlorus, and Galerius stand side by side in their would-be concord like pillars of a iving tetrapylon. The Tetrarchs affirm the natural beauty of the four elements, the four seasons, and the division of the heavens. In this indestructible block, material and form, structure and function are rooted in the belief that the divine manifests itself on earth through dynastic rulers. The arrival of the August! in Milan (ad290) was hailed as the "visible and present" manifestation of Jove; and Herakles was no longer a stranger in Italy, being embodied by Maximianus. The emperor, "born of god", was, in his turn, the "creator of gods" through his creation of a Caesar, He belonged to a superior world, where harmony reigned and where reforms could bring transcendent order to worldly confusion.

The Tetrarchs,
exterior of St Mark's basilica,



Crispus, later renamed Caesar by his father, Constantine, lived at Treviri from ad316 until ad326, when his villa was razed to the ground to make way for the construction of a church. Fragments of a ceiling fresco from a reception room, painted in about ad321, have been retrieved, carefully restored, and are displayed in the Diocesan museum of Treviri. The church was erected in atonement after Crispus was exiled to Pola for committing incest with his stepmother Fausta. who was killed soon afterwards. The coffers in the fresco contain pairs of cupids who are playing with symbols of power (a prophetic allusion). These figures alternate with portraits of two pedagogues (one of whom may be Lattantius, the Christian writer of African origin) and of the imperial women, who are distinguished by a circular halo of light. Constantia, half-sister to Constantine, takes a pearl necklace from a jewellery box; Helena, wife of Crispus, plays the lyre as a Muse; Flavia Helena, Constantine's mother, in the centre of the fresco, is represented as Juno, holding a golden bowl in her left hand and raising a veil with her right hand; finally, Maxima Fausta, wife of Constantine and instigator of the fatal love affair, is depicted as Aphrodite gazing at herself in a mirror. The face of Crispus himself is removed as part of his "damnatio memoriae".

Painted ceiling from the palace of Crispus at Treviri depicting princes
of the second Flavian dynasty, relations of Constantine.
Museo Diocesano, Treviri

Funerary stela of Publius Clodius.
Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn


In the frontier regions, away from the city with its elegant busts, artists produced powerful portraits, modifying the Hellenistic interpretation of the classical style and providing models for later European art. A particular form of 15th-century Flemish painting, for example, derived inspiration from the art of the Roman provinces. Jan van Eyck's Portrait of a Boy exhibits certain features - the cutting off of the bust, the inscription, the scroll in the hand, and a kind of fluted drapery that show a clear link with Rhenish stelae of the imperial age. For a thousand years, the incomplete dream of the empire continued to find expression, not so much on an official level, convulsed by military defeat, economic collapse, and invasions, but in lesser parts of society. The variation between the Italic-provincial style and the centralized form of propaganda art was reflected during the medieval age in the contrast of "everyday" art and the aristocratic art that was typical of the intermittent phases of revival (Carolingian. Ottoman. Frederican, and Burgundian). In the Roman imperial age. the most truly authentic art had from the start been found in the provinces, where it did not have to suffer comparison with courtly models, and where, both in the colonial settlements and the army, the plebeian class were in the majority. The quantity and durability of Roman provincial artefacts inspired the architecture and decorative arts of Christian Europe in its many forms, from Romanesque to Gothic, culminating in the Renaissance. Many of the elements that contributed to these styles and that appeared to be novelties in Italy were actually born from these peripheral aspects of Italic art. The so-called "French" style was, in fact, "antique" in that it was a steady uninterrupted development of the popular art of the Roman age. but from beyond the Alps. It differs from the antique style of the Italian Renaissance, which was modelled on a revival of Roman urban art, similar to the styles that evolved around the centres of royal power during the previous periods of cultural renaissance.


The Christian Empire

The monogram of Christ was the ultimate unifying symbol of the empire, which pursued its course with renewed faith in its eternal future. The dynastic role was exaggerated by Constantine's son, Constantine II (au337-361). who isolated himself from his subjects in a court that was indifferent to the pressing needs of the moment. Ammianus Marcellinus described the emperor's entry into Rome (ad357): "He stared ahead so fixedly that he seemed to be wearing an iron collar round his neck, moving his head neither to the right nor the left, so that he appeared not so much a person as an icon." In a colossal bronze of the emperor, now in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome, the forehead is concealed by an archaic skullcap of hair. The reign of Julian (ad36 1-363) was marked by a desperate attempt by the senatorial class to revive the cult of polytheism. A portrait statue in Paris shows the emperor wearing a sheathed beard and cloak, resembling a Greek scholar. The link between imperial authority and the army was reinforced by Jovian (ad363-364) and the two succeeding Augusti who co-ruled the empire, Valentinian I (ad364-375. west) and Valens (ad364 378, east). Gratian (ad367-383), son of Valentinian, shared office with his father and uncle during part of his reign. A portrait, discovered at Trevisi, shows a return to the vision of the Christian emperor and to the figures of Constantine's descendants, with a revival of former motifs from Caracalla to the Tetrarchs. This retrospective trend prevailed in luxury items such as ivory diptychs and jewellery produced for the court. The base of the obelisk erected by Theodosius (ad379-395) in the hippodrome of Constantinople, shows the imperial family surrounded by high dignitaries in the presence of the public, while the barbarians prostrate themselves in submission. On the death of Theodosius, his sons Arcadius and Honorius formally divided the kingdom, into east and west. It was a total partition without either claiming supremacy and proved definitive as each empire hereafter pursued a separate and independent course.

Relief portraying Constantine's speech in the Roman Forum, Arch of Constantine, Rome.
The arch was built in ad313 in honour of the emperor after victory over
his rival Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge