Online guide to ancient art

Published on : 09 April 20214 min reading time
For European culture, antiquity is the period that begins with the birth of writing and ends in the political and religious turmoil of the Middle Ages. Many artistic cultures, especially the architecture we know (for example, public buildings) are inspired by ancient models. Although the Greeks used to call all other peoples “barbarians”. However, there are many examples of artistic mastery and refinement of these other cultures, it must be admitted that their influence on art is very important to this day. But what is ancient art and how to recognize it?

What is ancient art?

The term ancient art refers to all artistic movements that appeared before modern art, including ancient Greece, ancient Egypt or medieval art. One of the most famous arts is the classical art developed in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, more exactly between 1660 and 1715. Classical painting follows certain rules, in which we can find figuration, realism and traditionalism, preventing too controversial topics. The works of classical painters such as Raphael symbolize for the most part subjects inspired by ancient times and Latin Greek mythology. Ancient art includes sculpture, painting and architecture. Classical painting was very influential in France, with articles by ambassadors such as Charles Le Brun or Nicolas Poussin.

The monuments of antiquity

Between political memory and public art, the monument seems to have always existed. It merges with the public architecture of the Greek city or with the funerary architecture of ancient Egypt. This double dimension impregnates through Antiquity, the writings of the historians of Pausanias or Thucydides, who described the public monuments referring to a political model henceforth revoked. To be precise, the public space of the monuments of Antiquity and the possibility of reinvesting them will long determine their perception. In the Middle Ages, the famous statue of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was kept near the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. The first Christian emperor to be faithfully seen is the statue of Constantine. In addition to this exaggerated ancient communication, we must also consider the multiple manifestations of nature before the Renaissance and the relics of the past. The pillars of the ancient temple were reused to build palaces or churches. Therefore, change and tradition are inseparable; or looted, in the modern sense of the word, the ruins of antiquity have not yet obtained the status of monuments. To this specific form of use of the ruins concurs a marked sense of the authority of the ancients.

Antique bronzes

Since the 1950s, historians and archaeologists of ancient art have revealed a new interest in “small bronzes”, decorative objects and statuettes. The spectacular discovery explains this to some extent that there are thousands of archaic and geometric bronzes in the Olympia stadium. The tombs of Macedonia and Thrace are rich in silver and bronze tableware; Etruscan and Greek vases from eastern Gaul and southwestern Germany, of which the most notable example is the crater of Vix.

However, there is a more general manifestation here: small Greek bronzes are primitive, and classical and Hellenistic sculptures are hardly understood except through reproductions. In the provinces of the Roman Empire, statues are generally juxtaposed with academic marble, sometimes with poor aesthetic appeal, while clumsy statues have undeniable appeal. Generally speaking, craftsmanship is the flip side of great art. The technical problems it poses and its social and economic impact make research into small objects increasingly important.

Ancient Greek sculpture

Sculpture is perhaps the most famous aspect of ancient art, especially for ancient Greek art. It made ancient Greece a contemporary art, but after painting. It provided the gods with the most beautiful gifts to celebrate heroes and obtain their protection. The Greek statue is often copied and modified through Roman writings, and has been a permanent reference for the sculptors of the Western world, especially from the Italian Renaissance to the early twentieth century.

Only a small part of the Greek sculptures is attributed, and with the exception of painted ceramics, almost all the paintings have disappeared. Many of the masterpieces described in ancient literary works are now lost or badly mutilated, and it is only through more or less skillful and faithful reproduction from the Roman period that we can know much about them. From the Renaissance to the present day, Western sculptors have restored many of these sculptures, sometimes their meanings are quite different from the original works. The work of de-restoration can recover the work in some cases, even piecemeal.

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