Back To CourseArt 101: Art of the Western World
23 chapters | 278 lessons
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Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.
Hello, and welcome to Art Rumble 2000 - the only 6-minute virtual art competition with no prizes! We've got a great match-up today: two of the greatest powers of the ancient world who lived only an Adriatic apart and each claim partial ownership of Western cultural heritage. In this corner, the challenger. Ancient Rome was a mighty civilization which at various points consisted of a kingdom, a republic, and an empire from about 753 BC-476 AD. In the other corner is Europe's oldest major civilization, ancient Greece, which thrived from roughly 900 BC to 30 BC. Civilizations ready? Let the art begin!
Ancient Greece is going to start off this competition by developing the first major sculptural program in Europe. Coming first can be a risky move, but the reward is establishing the basis of all Western art. The Greeks created highly realistic, life-sized statues out of marble, but even more impressively, out of bronze. By using the Lost-Wax technique to cast statues in smaller, hollow pieces that were later assembled, the Greeks created the first life-size bronze statues in the world. But that isn't the extent of their innovation. Look at this statue. See the weight shift onto one leg? That's called the contrapposto stance, and it is the basis of creating figures with realistic balance and movement.
Let's check in with team-leader, Polykleitos. Polykleitos is creating an idealized figure - realistic but adhering to perfect ratios, determined mathematically. The use of perfect proportions creates very realistic figures, but also an idealized human, showing Greek appreciations with the beauty of the human form, as well as their use of ideal subjects like heroes and gods. Although the entire team is producing great work, it looks like most of the greatest innovations are coming out of the Classical era.
Let's move on over to ancient Greece's architecture team, hard at work developing massive stone temples. Greek temples are found in one of three styles. They are, from oldest to youngest, Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian Orders. Each is defined by a type of column and superstructure, or roof. Most Greek temples are supported by rows and rows of these columns, creating a large front patio and an enclosed sanctuary. As in sculpture, temples are designed according to precise mathematical ratios to create a sense of rational harmony and balance. These temples honor the Greek gods, and oh! Look at this! The Greek temple team has begun to fill their temples with artwork.
Nice double-play by Greek sculpture and temple teams. Greek temples are covered in reliefs and statues, depicting scenes from mythology and history. This temple here is the Parthenon, a giant temple to Athena built in the 5th century BC, containing some of finest examples of Greek architecture and sculpture in the world. An excellent performance by ancient Greece.
Well, ancient Rome is going to have a tough time beating that! There's the bell, and ancient Roman sculptors waste no time creating their own body of work. That's quite a lot of sculpture being produced by the Romans, most of it in marble. What's this? A judge is heading over to see if the Romans are simply copying the works of the Greeks. And the judge says no - although Roman artists heavily relied on Greek ideas about sculpture and made several copies, it was a way to demonstrate an intellectual familiarity with Classical Greek culture.
And now we're beginning to see much more Roman-style work. Three things are standing out. Over here we see the Romans carving busts, portraits of people from the neck up that are realistic and highly emotional portrayals of real people.
Next to that we see Roman reliefs, which depict intricate narratives of actual historical events, a twist on the Greek focus on mythology.
And, look at this! Yes, it's the Roman equestrian statue, a portrait of an emperor or general on horseback. Now, the Roman team was not the first to carve an image on someone on a horse, but this iteration of that theme, with the personal, emotional posing of the rider, is going to become the standard for the rest of Western history.
And on to the Roman temple team! Again, we see clear influence from Greece, with the use of the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian Orders, but the actual floor plan is Etruscan, coming from that ancient Italian civilization and not reflecting true Greek perfection.
Wow, the Romans are really building a lot of temples, very quickly! How are they doing that? Oh, they've developed a new building material: concrete. Concrete is cheap, lightweight, and can be poured into any shape, allowing the Romans to quickly build hundreds of structures. Now that they have concrete, the Romans are getting more adventurous with their architecture. Here we see them developing the arch, which displaces weight for stronger structures that can be multiple stories tall.
Now they're combining arches to create high, vaulted ceilings. And it looks like they're going for it, I can't believe they're going to try it, yes! They've done it - the Romans have invented the dome! By creating small panels of concrete that are set in place, they created a large roof that does not require columns for support, allowing for much more interior space. It looks like this will be their final submission, the Pantheon, a temple to all Roman gods which boasts the largest un-reinforced concrete dome in the world. Well done, ancient Rome, well done!
We've seen some incredible performances from both ancient civilizations today, so let's have a brief recap of the highlights before scoring. Ancient Greece introduced a major sculpture program to the Western world, developing techniques for life-sized bronze and realistic, but idealized figures, including mathematically-defined proportions and the contrapposto stance. Their temple team developed three styles of massive temples, the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian Orders and used columns to support the weight of stone. Great cooperation between sculpture and temple teams here; the temples also use mathematical ratios to create a harmonious, balanced appearance, and are filled with incredible works of art.
The ancient Rome team responded with a sculpture program that respected and was built on Greek traditions, while introducing their own styles. Personal, emotional portraits were a major success of the Romans, both in terms of busts and life-sized equestrian statues. The Roman temples show a use of Greek styles but Etruscan, native-Italian, plans. The Romans managed to create a cheap, easily shaped material called concrete and used it to build a tremendous amount of temples. They introduced new innovations like the arch, vaulted ceiling, and dome, all of which alleviate the need for so many columns and allow for more spacious interiors. Excellent work by both civilizations. Who wins? You decide.
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Back To CourseArt 101: Art of the Western World
23 chapters | 278 lessons