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Current time:0:00Total duration:11:51

Video transcript

we're in Rome standing in front of the arch of Constantine this is such an interesting and problematic Monument it's one that scholars are still debating today and not too far away is the arch of Titus and not too far away from that is the arch of septimus severus and there was also an arch to Marcus Aurelius that doesn't survive arches were built to celebrate especially important military victories this particular arch is the first arch that celebrates a victory not over a foreign power but over a Roman rival so let's start by looking at the arch the surface is covered with sculpture and to make it even more complicated the sculpture dates from different time periods in Roman history so many of these sculptures weren't even made by Constantine II he was reusing them from earlier monuments that had been built by earlier emperors the Emperor's Marcus Aurelius Hadrian and Trajan those are three of the five what are known as good emperors who were seen to be especially benevolent emperors in Roman history so here Constantine seems to be associating himself with three of those five good emperors by bringing in sculptures from their monuments here into his own let's start with the sculptures at the top it's a little bit hard to get a sense of just how large those figures are but I'm estimating that they stand about ten feet tall these freestanding figures are borrowed from monuments belonging to the Emperor Trajan and these represent Dacian prisoners Dasia was more or less what we call Romania and this was an area that had been previously conquered by the Emperor Trajan we can tell the third ations we can tell that they're foreigners by the fact that they wear beards and by their clothing so they would have been easily identifiable as non Roman as far barians which simply means foreigner and so what we see here are figures that have been conquered by the Roman Empire and this is a theme that reappears throughout the arch in different forms subjecting foreign peoples to the power of the Roman the panels in between the Dacians are from monuments belonging to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius this is not freestanding sculpture this is high relief sculpture and if we start at the left we see the presentation of a client King presenting to the Roman people a foreign King who has been captured next to that Marcus Aurelius receives barbarian prisoners then to the right we have an address presumably Marcus Aurelius speaking to his soldiers speaking to the people and then finally on the right Marcus really is making a sacrifice before a battle then if we walk around the arch on the other side we have four additional panels from Marcus Aurelius these are the arrival of Marcus Aurelius into Rome Marcus Aurelius leaving Rome the distribution of largesse that is Marcus Aurelius distributing money to the Roman people and the submission of the Barbarian prisoners look at the beauty of those reliefs they are very much in the classical style the bodies flow easily they're in complex poses there is a high degree of naturalism many of the figures stand in contrapposto their drapery reveals the form of their body underneath in folds that are three-dimensional this is an important thing to note for some of the other sculptures we're going to look at later so below that we see freestanding columns in front of plasters all with Corinthian capitals and between those columns we see roundels that is seen set in round frames this is some of my favorite decorative sculpture on the arch these all come from monuments relating to the Emperor Hadrian and remember Hadrian was one of the good embers so on the south side from left to right we have departure for the hunt a sacrifice to the god Sylvanus a bear hunt and a sacrifice to the goddess Diana on the north side starting on the left is a boar hunt a sacrifice to the god Apollo and then against a field of purple potpourri which was an extremely expensive semi-precious stone is a rondelle depicting the aftermath of a lion hunt and the sacrifice of Hercules it's important to remember that the Emperor was traditionally the head of the Roman state religion so making sacrifices to the gods and then hunting something that was reserved for the elite a sign of strength for the Emperor just like the panel's above the rondelle's are sculpted in high relief and the rondall it shows the sacrifice to apollo i think is especially beautiful and it reminds us that this is the classical tradition that the Romans had borrowed from the ancient Greeks look at the figure of Apollo standing semi-nude in lovely contrapposto and the horse moving out into our space so this incredible naturalism not only in the body but even in a treatment of space as we move below the rondelle's we finally get to some sculpture that dates from the time of Constantine it's a band that wraps around the entire arch and tells what really was the critical story for Constantine we're not entirely sure but many scholars believe that we should start on the west side of the arch which shows Constantine's army making its way to Verona to attack the army of another Roman Emperor Maxentius this is a complicated moment in Roman history for sometimes the Empire had been ruled not by a single Emperor but by four emperors to senior emperors and to junior emperors a system of government that was called at a turkey and the idea was that with four rulers in such a vast empire you would bring some political stability there were two rulers who were responsible for the East and two rulers that were responsible for the West Constantine was one of the Emperor's that was responsible for the Western Empire and he went to battle against Maxentius who was his co ruler in the West the next panel shows Constantine laying siege to the city of Verona and to max and Jess's troops then across the large bags the most famous scene this is the Battle of the Milvian bridge this is when the two armies confront each other just outside of Rome and Constantine defeats Maxentius and Maxentius is killed at the Battle of the Milvian bridge this is the decisive battle that puts constant in charge of the western part of the Roman Empire the panel on the east side of the arc shows Constantine entering the city of Rome and then on the north side we have two final panels the oratorio at the rostrum and the distribution of money to the Senate and the Roman people let's look at the distribution of largesse so the thing that strikes me most is just how different stylistically the carving is whereas the panels that had been borrowed from earlier monuments are so clearly classical in the representation here the figures are squat the beautiful proportions of the human bodies have become stunted and the roundness of the forms the careful definition of drapery is now simply incised markings they seem almost like drawings not sculpture about a century ago when art historians looked at this contrast between styles they thought what they were seeing was evidence of the decline of the Roman Empire of the decline of the artistic capabilities of the sculptors of the day that is somehow this more simplified form was less good what some art historians now conjecture is that Constantine's imagery is not meant to compete stylistically that it had a different purpose that was valued for its clarity well the lack of concern for the correct proportions of the human body the lack of interest in a space for bodies to exist in these are characteristics that we associate with early Christian art and in fact Constantine is the pivotal figure there he makes it possible for Christians to practice Christianity legally within the Roman Empire with the Edict of Milan and becomes by legend a Christian himself at the end of his life and we know that the style of early Christian art is to some extent meant to function symbolically rather than naturalistically what's most important to Constantine sculptors is clarity they want to make sure that we know the constantine is the figure in the middle he's twice as large as every other figure sadly he's lost his head at this point but we can just make out that his arm is outstretched and he's holding a tray of coins which are falling into the lap of a man who seems to be gathering the coins in his toga senators at the time Pasi emperor additional coins we even see some children receiving the Emperor's generosity this is a very symmetrical composition with the Emperor smack in the middle and all of the figures turning their attention to him so there's that idea of clarity and legibility then we have these four interesting scenes two on either side these are the bureaucrats that count and keep track of the money of the state and make possible the distribution of money that we see in the central scene there's a sense of a well organized Roman government if we go below we see sculpture and the spandrels that also date from the time of Constantine most of these show victory figures some of them show Roman gods and also the seasons and then in the basis of the columns you see additional relief carvings these are also Constantinian and they show victories and subjugated barbarians the last two major panels are found inside the main archway on one side we see an inscription that translates bringer of peace here we see on the left's the Emperor being crowned by a figure of victory and on the right of battle scene the opposite panel shows Trajan on horseback trampling a barbarian and the inscription above reads liberator of the city these two enormous inner panels are from the era of Hadrian but he made them not of his own exploits but of the exploits of the previous Emperor Trajan now the fascinating thing throughout this Monument is that the heads of these previous emperors are often recarved to the features of the Emperor Constantine so Constantine not only took these monuments from previous emperors but had the faces of the emperors recarved in his own image so what are we to make of a monument that is essentially a collage where the Emperor recarved the faces of these good emperors in many cases and gave them his own features what did the Roman people make of this this is something that art historians and archeologists are still debating today art destroyin struggle with what the arch means because each of the sculptures within it had its own meaning and now together these sculptures from different periods have even more complex layers of meaning and all of this within the complex fabric of the city of Rome itself we're looking at it against the backdrop of the Colosseum the spot that the arch is located on was part of the triumphal route that generals would take during ceremonial parades through the city of Rome up the sacred way to the Capitoline Hill ultimately Constantine is bringing these fragments together to place himself in the lineage of good emperors to present himself to the city of Rome and to history as a victorious military ruler but also as a good provider for the state [Music]