Rome and Greece are only a short distance away from each other – undoubtedly, there are many similarities between the two art styles. Rome, being the melting pot, encapsulates many different cultures into one. A lot of the sculptures found in Greece and Rome are composed of marble or bronze. While the art forms/styles, such as marble sculptures, look similar in style, the subjects being depicted are vastly different. Greek art often depicted myths and provided an idealistic figure of the subject, whereas Roman art pieces were more commemorative and based on history.
Kouros (left, taken at the British Museum)
Agustus of Prima Porta (right) (Source)
Pictured above is a statue of a male citizen of Greece. Many types of these statues, Kouroi (boy of noble rank) are on display in public spaces. The sculptures are not carved out naturalistically, but rather they are modified to symbolize beauty and excellence. The idealistic sculptures enhance the muscles to portray the ideal human physique.
In Augustus of Prima Porta, the statue carved out still shows muscular features; however, they are not extremely defined. The arms of Augustus show that he has muscle, but the depiction of his arms show that they are not lean – there is not a lot of detail/ridges to show the raw muscles. Although the muscles are not as defined, this statue is still slightly idealized – the youth of Augustus is maintained.
The architecture between the two cultures are quite similar, but the Roman architecture contains more rounded shapes such as domes and arches. The Parthenon from Greece utilizes the 4:9 ratio. The Pantheon has a similar exterior; however, the whole building contains a dome called the rotunda. Another notable architectural piece from the Romans are the arches, such as the Triumphal Arch and the Arch of Constantine. While the arch contains elements of Greek art, such as the columns, the arch itself is unique to Roman art. The element of arches can also be seen in the Roman aqueducts.
Like Rome, Byzantine art is a mixture of different cultures/regions spanning from the Middle East to North Africa and the Eastern Slavic world. Byzantine art is full of religious expression and often depicts a scene relating to Christianity. The icons and mosaics were displayed on the interior of the churches. The depictions are usually not of this realm. While the artistic styles may reflect that of the Romans, the scenery depicted is often spiritual.
The subjects often look suspended between the view and the wall, with large eyes gazing forward. The background behind the subject is typically gold, which enhances the effect of suspension.
In contrast to the cement/plaster that was used for the mosaics, ivory was also used as a medium for the wealthier people. The small ivory figurines were often used to decorate book covers and reliquary boxes.
The mosaic found in San Vitale is on display on the east side of the church. Right above three window panes, a mosaic can be found. The Apse mosaic of Christ with San Vitale, Bishop Ecclesius, and two angels can be seen at the center of the image above.
The appearance of the figures in front of the golden backdrop make it seem like all the figures are floating and looking down. The wide eyes looking down provide a sense of connection between the viewer and the figures in the “different realm”. Christ is seated at the center dressed in a royal purple robe and is in front of a halo with a cross in the middle. The effects of the figures being suspended in air is clearly seen when looking at Christ – he appears to be sitting on the blue sphere, which represents the universe/globe. He seems as if he is sitting on the sphere, however, due to the positioning, it appears that he is only hovering over the sphere. In this mosaic, Jesus is seen handing a crown over to San Vitale, who is the primary martyr. On the right side, Bishop Ecclesius (the founder of the church) is handing over a model of the church.
Naturalism is not a huge priority in Byzantine art. Looking closely at the feet of the angels, Bishop and San Vitale, it does not seem that they are standing. This mosaic lacks naturalism which helps distinguish Byzantine art from Roman art.
The early Christian Byzantine Era can be confused with the later Byzantine era art because they show a lot of similarities. Christ, which is part of the deësis (meaning prayer) mosaic is located at Church of Hagia Sophia. This church was reserved only for the emperor and the imperial family. This mosaic was created during the Later Byzantine period; however, it still holds elements of the Byzantine style. The background is gold, giving the illusion that the three figures are suspended between the wall and the viewer.
The subjects depicted are Virgin Mary (left), Jesus Christ (center), and John the Baptist (right). The penetrating gaze forward from Jesus is contrasted with the gazes from Mary and John, which are focused on Christ. It is clear that Jesus is the main subject in this mosaic. Contrary to the mosaics of Justinian and Theodora at San Vitale, there are no black outlines around Christ.
The halo behind Christ is flat and contains a cross, similar to the mosaics of San Vitale.
Adams, L. S. (2001). A History of Western Art (3rd Edition ed.). New York , New York: McGraw Hill.
Atchison, Bob. “Discovery, History and Conservation – the Christ Deesis Mosaic in Hagia Sophia.” Hagia Sophia
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Byzantine Art.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1 June 2018
Farber, Allen. “Justinian Mosaic, San Vitale.” Khan Academy, Khan Academy
Farber, Allen. “San Vitale and the Justinian Mosaic.” Smarthistory, Smarthistory, 8 Aug. 2015
Hurst, Ellen. “A Beginner’s Guide to Byzantine Art.” Khan Academy, Khan Academy