Ancient Mediterranean + Europe
- Emperor or athlete? Rethinking a modern attribution
- Portraits of the Four Tetrarchs
- Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine
- The Colossus of Constantine
- Colossus of Constantine
- Arch of Constantine
- Arch of Constantine
- Arch of Constantine
- Holding on to pagan traditions in the early Christian era: The Symmachi Panel
- Mosaic decoration at the Hammath Tiberias synagogue
Portraits of the Four Tetrarchs, from Constantinople, c. 305, porphyry, 4' 3" high (St. Marks, Venice). Speakers: Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.
Want to join the conversation?
- Do we have any idea what the hole in the hats of a couple of the tetrarchs was used for? It looks like something was stuck into the hole originally.(10 votes)
- I don't know, but to me the statues look very Ancient Egyptian, and often statues of Ancient Egyptian rulers had a serpent in the front of their hat. Do you think that the Egyptians might have influenced the making of the statues? Just speculating. What do you think?(4 votes)
- Say I am a small time tax collector for the Roman government...or better yet a priest and I follow the Roman religion that has been long established for hundreds and hundreds of years...
The Constantine comes into power and makes Christianity the state religion...
Now say I live far off in Roman lands near Tunis, or Spain, or any number of regions that are FAR from the central hub of Rome or Constantinople later...
How do I get the new that anything has changed in the first place? How come there weren't large sects of people who would carry on with the Roman cult religion? I just don't understand how something like this can so universally crumble even over a vast expanse of time...(6 votes)
- If you want to understand why the Roman cult deteriorated like it did, I would suggest reading The City of God, written by St. Augustine. He covers that period of time in his writing and explains why the Roman religion was set to fall from the very beginning.(5 votes)
- This is clearly a Post-Classic abstraction. Yes, the two pairs' embraces could communicate solidarity, but they could also ironically reflect defensive postures. The Empire had broken apart before being reunited, but Rome still suffered chronic problems with plague, drought, periodic wars of succession, and resulting economic problems.
Above all, the Four Tetrarchs can be seen as an expression of crisis. Gone are the Classic, masculine command of space and the idealization of the imperial, muscular body. Compared with the alpha male statues of Augustus, the Tetrarchs look as if they're huddled together ready to die!
There is also an internal division created by the two embraces. Why not a four-way embrace? Does this foreshadow the Tetrarchy's demise? Another sense of falseness comes from the unrecognizable faces. Are they truly equal? Must we suppress identity to achieve stability?
There is a hint of hierarchy, if we accept that the bearded figures are the senior emperors "protecting" and/or "delegating to" the juniors, but why don't we see three men honoring Diocletian? That was the political reality. The Tetrarchy was only as good as Diocletian's sheer will. Without him, the alliance crumbled.
History gave lie to the four "equal," faceless, emasculated emperors. The statues hold out a shaky unity, due to paranoia over the Empire's previous break up, but they also illustrate a fatal denial of the competing interests that would quickly destroy this political experiment. In the end, a king can have no rivals.(8 votes)
- Does anybody think that the two pairs of men are duplicates of each other? These statues look very Egyptian, the same abstract feel that I find in a lot of Egyptian art. Also, another thing that makes me think that this is at least influenced by Ancient Egypt is that around4:10Dr. Zucker and Dr. Harris point out that the hilts of their swords have eagles on them. What if those were falcons? The falcon is the symbol of the Ancient Egyptian god Horus. This is just speculation. I'm curious to see what others think about this.(3 votes)
- I read an article that said there was a major shift in Late Roman art due to the "Crisis of the Third Century." Wars, invasions, and economic collapse changed the social structure - the power of the aristocracy waned, and the army took its place.
Roman art (a great deal which was used as propaganda) was now aimed at a different audience. The psychological complexity and naturalism of earlier art had appealed to the educated aristocracy; the army favored bolder, simpler art that clearly conveyed its message.
Egyptian art is also very stylized (though for different reasons - the rigid position was meant to convey divinity of the Pharaoh). This is probably why the tetrarchs are reminiscent of Egyptian art, although I don't know if there is a deeper connection. (Although I doubt it - the circumstances surrounding the piece and the fact that the stylization was done for different reasons make it unlikely.)(7 votes)
- These two pairs don't seem to have been designed for a corner - one of them has a shoulder cut off. Is there any idea of how they were originally positioned in Constantinople?(4 votes)
- If you look at the "front" two tetrarchs, one can see the remains of a column behind them, and if you look at their stand, then it seems clear that they were once a corner composition.
The strangeness of the composition is more likely due to the missing pieces and the cut up, looted, natured of the piece, rather than an issue with it's placement,(2 votes)
- In my opinion it seems that the creator of this piece just lacked the skill that other creators of this time had. Maybe the rejection of traditional form was not intentional but instead this is just the best the artist could accomplish.(2 votes)
- From the author:That might make sense except that this is likely a prestigious state commission and the rulers of Rome could hire very well trained and talented artists. For this reason, historians believe that the issue is not a lack of skill. Artists in the 20th century often chose to portray form in simplified ways even when they were capable of highly naturalistic work. They did this because style is itself an expression of meaning.(3 votes)
- Where in Constantinople have they been originally? Was it some kind of public place? Is the artist known?(1 vote)
- The Tetrarchic portrait now in Piazza San Marco in Venice was originally located in the Philadelphion, a public square of ancient Constantinople. The square existed until the 8th century CE; the statues were captured in 1204, during the Fourth Crusade, and taken to Venice.(5 votes)
- At2:15and beyond, they talk about how this is very abstract, what might have caused the artist to make such a decision to make them abstract, would it have been in rebellion or rejection to the way roman art has been for centuries?(2 votes)
- Around4:20, there is discussion of how the robes obscure the underlying human body. Could that be a depiction of armor or a heavy fabric that obscures the underlying shapes?(1 vote)
- Is this abstraction of the human body because of Christianity's early iconoclasm? I think they wanted to distance themselves from the cult image of Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.(1 vote)
- The video states that these sculptures, though dating to 300 C.E., have no relation to Christianity. Their abstraction is for other reasons.(1 vote)
(soft piano music) - [Voiceover] On the side of Saint Mark's Basilica in Venice is a sculptural group, actually two pieces of stone put togther that show the four tetrarchs. - [Voiceover] And they really are embedded in the corner of the church, they obviously don't belong. - [Voiceover] for one thing, the color is different. - [Voiceover] That's true, and there is a sense in which there are a lot of things here on the side of the basilica that seem to have been just added. - [Voiceover] That's absolutely right, we see all kinds of fabulously colored marbles as well as columns, which we know were spoils from the Fourth Crusade when the Venetians who had tried to get to the holy land, didn't make it and instead sacked other Christians in Constantinople. - [Voiceover] So they brought back enormous spoils and The Tetrarchs likely came in that group. - [Voiceover] But what's important to remember is that The Tetrarchs are not byzantine The Tetrarchs are not even Christian. This is sculpture from the last phase of polytheistic Roman culture. - [Voiceover] In the third century the Roman Empire suffered tremendous civil wars. At the end of that century, the Emperor Diocletian decided that the empire might be more stable if he divided power. - [Voiceover] And so what he did, is he set up a structure called The Tetrarchy, which means four and refers to four rulers. There were two augusti, that is two senior emporors and then there were two caesars, two junior emperors. - [Voiceover] Our historians think that the four figures that we see here represent the four emperors and co-emperors Diocletian, Maximianus, Galerius and Constantius. Now it's really impossible to tell who's who, and I think it's important to put this in the context of the history of portraits of emperors. There are portraits of emperors going back to the first emperor Augustus. - [Voiceover] And they had been very individualized these were real portraits, yes they might be idealized, but there was always enough specificity so that you could recognize, in fact, their very purpose was so that the likeness of the emperor could be distributed throughout the empire. - [Voiceover] And we see during this period of the tetrarchy that is completely gone. - [Voiceover] It's all gone. - [Voiceover] First of all the figures stand in very similar positions, their bodies are the same sizes, aside from the fact that in each pair one is bearded and one isn't, their faces look exactly the same and are very abstracted. - [Voiceover] The costume is identical as well. I want to go back to that idea of the beards for just a moment. Scholars have hypothesized that it's the augusti who were bearded, these are the elders, whereas the clean shaven figures are the caesars. - [Voiceover] Look at their faces, their eyes have been reduced to lozenge shapes. I use the word abstract where facial features have none of the subtlety of the way that our faces really look in the world. - [Voiceover] And it's not just the faces, it's the structure of the body. Where is the contrapposto? Where is the understanding of the musculature of the bone structure? This is the art that has inherited the legacy of ancient Greece and Rome and yet there is clearly this rejection of all of the naturalism that had come before. Now part of this may have to do with the fact that this is carved in porpyhry. This is a purple porpyhry and it's a stone that was reserved for the emperor, it was a very rare stone, it was imported from Egypt. It's quite hard and so unlike marble, this would have been much more difficult to get the kind of fine features that we associate with much classical sculpture. Nevertheless, there is finely carved porphyry, and so this was a decision. - [Voiceover] And the figures, although lacking the naturalism of the tradition of ancient Greece and Rome express valor, a sense of working together, of harmony, they grasp each other, their faces are turned toward each other, their bodies are turned toward each other, they express a solidity that I imagine was somewhat reassuring in the face of all the turmoil of the third century. - [Voiceover] I think that's exactly right. I mean they are rendered as military figures and there is a real sense of solidarity. - [Voiceover] Look at how they grasp their swords. - [Voiceover] And those are great swords. They seem to have eagle hilts if you look closely. But look at the way that the drapery is rendered for instance in the forearms. And this so makes the point if you look at the drapery of a classical figure. If you look at the drapery on east pediment of the Parthenon for example, they have this wonderful billowing flowing drapery that reveals the structure of the body below it. Here, instead, you have a series of simply cut linear forms. These are just lines that are decoratively added to the surface but in no way reveal the structure of the body below. - [Voiceover] Their proportions are also not natural. Their heads are too big for their bodies, their shoulders are narrow. We are at the edge of the end of The Roman Empire and the beginning of the Christian period. The next emperor who becomes himself a tetrarch, is Constantine, although he defeats his co-emperor and establishes himself as the sole emperor once again of Rome, then he decriminalizes Christianity, so Christianity becomes very soon the official religion of the Roman Empire. - [Voiceover] What's so interesting is that so much early Christian art and certainly early medieval art will abstract the human figure. And we understand that in relationship to the new religion to trying to not celebrate our earthly experience but to look towards the heavenly. The problem when we look at something like this, is that we're seeing a similar kind of abstraction of the human body without that kind of religious overly. And so we try to understand why there is this rejection of the earlier classicism without the religious aspect at least at the highest levels of society. And we are left to wonder. (soft piano music)