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Monumental Architecture of the Late Empire, and of the Emperor Constantine

Monumental Architecture of the Late Empire, and of the Emperor Constantine

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will discuss the monuments and architecture of the late empire.

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Tutorial

Exploring types of monumental architecture in ancient Rome.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell. And today's lesson is about monumental architecture of the late Roman Empire and of the Emperor Constantine.

As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as many times you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives, or the things you're going to learn today, are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you will be able to identify and define today's key terms, identify types of monumental architecture like columns and triumphal arches, and describe the stories depicted in the friezes of some examples of monumental architecture.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is triumphal arch-- a type of monument, originating in ancient Rome, that consists of an arch built to commemorate a military victory. Spolia-- sculptural elements taken from the buildings of a place that has been conquered and often incorporated into triumphal arches. Basilica-- a columned meeting hall in ancient Rome, later a church with columns.

Monument-- a statue, building, or other structure that commemorates an important event or person. Decline of form-- the idea that the achievements of classical learning and humanism went into decline during the late Roman Empire, resulting in a lowering of artistic quality. And frieze-- a horizontal band of sculpture, usually near the ceiling of a building. The big idea for today is that monumental columns and triumphal arches are examples of commemorative architecture.

So the monumental architecture that we're looking at today covers the years ranging from 81 AD to 313 AD, you can see there-- so from first century to fourth century AD. And all the monumental architecture that we're looking at today is situated in Rome with the exception of Trier, Germany, which is not pictured. There is one structure that's in Trier.

So, one of the best examples of a commemorative monumental column is Trajan's Column. Here's what it looks like today. It's a form of monumental architecture.

And the reason that we care about monumental architecture is that examples like columns and triumphal arches-- they're created to celebrate individuals and their accomplishments. Triumphal arches, in particular, were to celebrate military accomplishments.

Trajan's Column, built in 113 AD, was created to commemorate Trajan's conquest of the Dacians. And that was a civilization based in modern-day Romania. In fact, the frieze, the spiral frieze that encircles the column is depicting the story of that conquest.

Now, the frieze culminates at the very top of the column, which was originally capped with a bronze statue of Trajan, which was later replaced with the current statue of St. Peter. And as a fun fact, Trajan himself is actually buried underneath the column. And it is in Rome, Italy.

Now, the earliest surviving triumphal arch is the Arch of Titus from around 90 AD, celebrating his conquest of Palestine, which is modern-day Israel and the surrounding areas. Now, the borders defining Palestine are different now than they were in ancient Rome. So try not to get to confused with that.

It's constructed of a concrete core with a marble exterior. And the central rounded arch is flanked by two rectangular supports, which include the first examples of what's called the composite order, which is essentially a combination of the Corinthian column with the iconic scroll-shaped capital. Sculptural relief shows the sacking of the temple in Jerusalem. You can also see in the attic, which is that larger section on top, the only thing shown is the inscription, again, commemorating this accomplishment.

Now, this image is of the triumphal arch of the Emperor Constantine. This arch commemorates his rise-- Constantine's rise-- as sole emperor after the defeat of a political rival, Maxentius, at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Now, it's notable for its high degree of ornamentation, for its use of three rounded arches as opposed to the single arch of Titus' triumphal arch, as well as the freestanding columns as opposed to the ornamental columns on Titus' triumphal arch. Now, due in part to the potpourri, I guess, of artistic elements scattered throughout the arch and in part to the apparent disregard for the canon of proportions in some of the relief sculptures, this arch is often cited as an example of the decline of form in ancient Greece.

Now, monumental could also be in reference to an image like this example-- this partial image of Constantine. Originally, his head would have been attached to a body. The classical ideals we see in early Roman examples are largely missing. In fact, based on a quick glance, it almost seems to recall elements we saw in archaic art of the Etruscans and Greeks-- specifically, in my opinion, with the geometric-shaped eyes. Now, it's also been noted by some scholars for its seemingly aloof appearance as perhaps depicting a sense of emotional disconnectedness from his subjects.

Now, getting back to architecture-- a basilica was originally a columned meeting hall in ancient Rome and later became associated with a Christian building with a large central nave or hall. The Basilica at Trier, originally called the Aula Palatina, began life as an imperial reception hall for the emperor Constantine when he was visiting the imperial city of Trier in modern-day Germany.

Now, it's notable for its design with a large, illuminated rectangular hall-- and it's illuminated by all those windows-- called the nave as well as its use of brick as a building material, which is different than what we've seen so far. In fact, this particular building is regarded as serving as a model for buildings constructed during what came to be referred to as the Romanesque period some centuries later.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives to see how we did. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you identify types of monumental architecture, like columns and triumphal arches? And can you describe the stories depicted in the friezes of some examples of monumental architecture? And once again, the big idea for today is that monumental columns and triumphal arches are examples of commemorative architecture.

And that's it. Thank you very much for joining me. I'll see you next time.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Triumphal Arch

    A type of monument, originating in ancient Rome, that consists of an arch built to commemorate a military victory.

  • Spolia

    Sculptural elements taken from the buildings of a place that has been conquered and often incorporated into triumphal arches.

  • Basilica

    A columned meeting hall in ancient Rome, later a church with columns.

  • Monument

    A statue, building, or other structure that commemorates an important event or person.