During the Early to High Empire period, the Roman Empire was at the peak of wealth, power and status. In light of maintaining this reputation, emperors and artists used art and architecture to display their times of achievement and hierarchy. Two constant themes that I saw within Roman art is both imperial and social propaganda. Commissioned by the Roman Senate to celebrate the peace established in the empire after Augustus’ victories, Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Peace), was a great illustration of power and peace in Rome.
The walls of the altar flooded with sculptural reliefs on the upper and lower registers. Inside was an altar made for animal sacrifices and was decorated with a cow skull above the altar with floral designs, and was meant to envision Roman civil religion. One important piece of the sculptural relief is the Imperial Procession which was the detail of the South frieze. Augustus is depicted wearing a toga, covering his head. It is suggested that he also slightly taller than the rest of the figures to imply hierarchal scale.
Tellus, displayed on the east side of the Ara Pacis displays a personification of a female, earth-type goddess with twins. It was sought to portray the peace and fertile prosperity enjoyed as a result of the Pax Augusta brought by Roman Empire. Triumphal arches are one of the most influential and distinctive types of architecture associated with ancient Rome and are used to commemorate victorious generals or significant public events. The Arch of Titus was a free standing gateway and had a passage covered by a barrel vault. It was originally topped with a 4 horse chariot and driver.
One of the most commemorative illustrations within this arch is the sculptural relief, Spoils from the Temple of Solomon which told the story of Titus returning from Judea and carrying a Menorah from the temple of Solomon. The arch itself shows the emperors ascension as a divine figure. The Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius signified power and authority. The artists went as far as incorporating a hieratic scale between the horse and Marcus; although not realistic, it was important for the ruler to be the largest figure. Another recognizable factor in relation to imperialism is the “equestrian style” of the piece.
Equestrian portraits were a Roman tradition that symbolized authority and was depicted strictly for emperors. Shortly after Marcus’ rule, he passed the power down to his unstable and unrealistic son, Commodus. In the piece, Commodus as Hercules, we can see a lot of the ideas Commodus wanted to bring forth about his ruling. Commodus thought of himself as the once hero, Hercules. We can see this with the club and lion hat in this sculpture. The most interesting and creative structure I came to learn was the Baths of Caracalla.
This structure was created to maintain hygiene while also instilling a social atmosphere. Caracalla also established different times for men and women to use this structure. Originally it was made of bricks and concrete and was sheathed in marble and mosaics. It was equipped with different stations such as a gym, swimming pool, hot baths and cold baths, which basically served as a modern day spa. Another piece that stuck out to me was the sculpture of the Tetrarchs. There are numerous factors to this piece that creates a distinction from the rest of Roman society and power.
For one it was created from purple stone which we do not see often. Aside from the idealistic and humanistic styles of Roman art, the artist of this piece gave more of a geometric approach; one figure cannot be distinct from the other which creates the notion of unity and shared power. During this time, Emperor Diocletian divided the empire into 4 parts (The West and The East – divided into 2 parts) ruled by 2 senior emperors and 2 junior emperors. The piece expressed vigilance and especially unity in the way they are embracing each other.
Cite this Art History Ara Pacis Augustae
Art History Ara Pacis Augustae. (2017, Jan 22). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/art-history-ara-pacis-augustae/