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The Pantheon

The Pantheon

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will explore the Pantheon as one of the main technical and artistic achievements of Ancient Rome.

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Tutorial

An overview of the design and technological innovations of the Pantheon in Rome.

Video Transcription

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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 the Pantheon, not be confused with the Parthenon, which is in Greece. This building is in Rome. Now, as you're watching the video feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as many times as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready we can begin.

Today's lesson objectives, or the things you're going to learn today, are listed below. By the end of the lesson today you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms, explain the two major design elements featured in the Pantheon, describe some of the major details of the Pantheon, such as its dome, and explain the technical innovations used in constructing the dome.

Key terms as always are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is coffers, square shaped elements in the surface of a ceiling or dome with both a decorative and practical functioning of lightning the weight. Oculus, an eye or round hole in the top of a dome that lightens its weight and allows natural light to come in. A dome is a vaulted roof element having a rounded semi-circular or elliptical shape. Rosettes are rose shaped elements often in the middle of coffers.

Key terms continued, drum is a cylindrical stone that forms part of a column. And Corinthian Order is the most recent of the three classical orders of column and also the most refined and decorative marked by acanthus leaf decorations at the capital. Big idea for today is that the Pantheon is the most important example of Roman architecture. And to let you know that there is required artwork which is labeled in purple. Time frame that we're looking at today, the Pantheon was constructed during the reign of the emperor Hadrian between 117 and 125 AD. And we'll be focused on Rome today.

So why do we care about the Pantheon? Well, it's almost certainly the most important example of Roman architecture. I would say it's definitely the most important example, primarily in its technical innovation. Pantheon means all gods. And this was originally constructed in honor of the Roman god or gods. The majority of Roman gods were actually adopted with the absorption of Greece into the empire. For example, the Roman god Jupiter is equivalent to the Greek god Zeus, and the Roman god Mars is equivalent to the Greek god Aries.

Now, it's constructed out of concrete and stone. For example, the front Corinthian style columns are granite. And the dome, which we'll talk about in a few minutes, is concrete. And again, date of construction til its completion is about 117 to 125 AD. Pantheon design is a really interesting combination of a Greek style temple, the rectangular front section called a portico, think porch, and a Roman style rotunda, a circular building with a dome.

Now, it may seem like a Frankenstein's monster of a construction or of a structure, but the designs really complement each other well. The rotunda allows the building to open up skywards, while the Greek style temple provides a much more aesthetically pleasing frontal view. In fact, from the front of the temple the dome isn't even visible. Now, the Pantheon design employs the use of Corinthian style columns on the exterior and interior of the building. And Corinthian columns, if you remember, are the most ornate of the three primary styles.

Now, over the front entrance is an inscription dedicated by the emperor Hadrian to Marcus Agrippa, the man responsible for the construction of another Roman temple, the Maison Carree in present-day France. The dome, however, is the most impressive and technologically innovative element of the Pantheon. And its construction wouldn't have been possible without our old friend, concrete. In blue I'm highlighting the rectangular portico and in purple the circular rotunda.

Now, this a frontal view the Pantheon where you can clearly see the two architectural styles together as well as the use of the Corinthian style columns. Now, in this next image in this vantage point, this is from the front of the Pantheon, you can see the inscription dedicated to Marcus Agrippa. And you can also get an idea of scale and how the dome wouldn't be visible from the very front of the temple.

So this is an interior view of the Parthenon, and notice the use of the Corinthian columns. There are also alcoves or niches embedded within the circular walls of the rotunda. Originally each would have held a separate sculpture and functioned as a shrine dedicated to an individual diety. Now, eventually after the fall of Rome and the rise of Christianity the Pantheon, like many classical temples, was converted into Christian church.

This exterior view of the dome shows the supporting elements of the dome. If you look closely you can see a series of ridges or a series of solid circular rings that gradually creep inwards. Now, those support the weight of the dome and channel it down through the exterior walls. Now, the real visual treats are on the inside. And here is an interior view of the dome. It's actually an 18th century painting by the artist Giovanni Panini, if you're interested, and provides a nice view of the alcoves I mentioned before as well as the interior design of the dome.

Now, if you can imagine taking a rounded arch and spinning it around its vertical axis, you would end up with a dome. It's a self-supporting structure, but depending on the materials used creates a substantial amount of weight. And a dome of this size out of cut stone wouldn't have been possible, which is why it was constructed out of lighter weight and pourable concrete. There's also some additional elements, like the coffers, which are those rectangular pattern you see at the top, and the oculus, which removed material and helped to reduce the weight of the dome.

So again, the rectangular pattern or recesses that you see are called coffers. And they would have originally been painted blue to imitate the sky, which is really the whole point of having the dome. It also helped to create a sense of openness and depth in the ceiling. The center hole, or oculus, would have illuminated the interior of the Parthenon, blending with the sky motif of the ceiling and provided a recognizable symbolism of the eye of Jupiter, the Roman equivalent of Zeus.

That brings us to the end of the 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 explain the two major design elements featured in Pantheon? And by two major design elements I'm referring to the portico, or the front rectangular area, and the rotunda. Describe some of the major details of the Pantheon, such as its dome. And explain the technical innovations used in constructing the dome.

Big idea for today, once again, is that the Pantheon is the most important example of Roman architecture, particularly in how it influenced later architectural designs, as we'll see when we get to the Renaissance, for example. So, there you go. Thanks for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Citations

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Coffers

    Square-shaped elements in the surface of a ceiling or dome, with both a decorative and practical function of lightening the weight.

  • Oculus

    An “eye” or round hole in the top of a dome that lightens its weight and allows natural light to come in.

  • Dome

    A vaulted roof element, having a rounded, semicircular or elliptical shape.

  • Rosettes

    Rose-shaped elements, often in the middle of coffers.

  • Drum

    A cylindrical stone that forms part of a column.

  • Corinthian Order

    The most recent of the three classical orders of column and also the most refined and decorative, marked by acanthus leaf decorations at the capital.