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Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus

Battle of the Romans and Barbarians (Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus), c. 250-260 C.E. (Museo Nazionale Romano-Palazzo Altemps, Rome) Speakers: Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Ari Mendelson
    You said about the invention of a new more complex style that is less concerned with the elegance of the individual human body.

    If I recall correctly, the medieval style was, compared with the classical and the Renaissance, less concerned with the elegance of the individual human body. Is this sarcophagus an example of an object which demonstrates that art in general is transitioning from a style that concerns itself with the elegance of the body and a style does not do so very much?
    (7 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Миленa
      I think so. An article I read linked the shift in art style in Late Roman art with the "Crisis of the Third Century." Basically, the third century CE in the Roman world was disastrous - the empire was racked with civil wars, barbarian invasions, and economic collapse. This changed the social structure, as the power of the educated aristocracy waned, and the military gained power.

      A great deal of Roman art was used as propaganda aimed at those who held the power. Now instead of an audience that was an educated elite (who favored subtlety and classicism) it was instead aimed at an audience who favored a simple and bold expression that clearly conveyed its message. That is why Constantine's statue is so enormous and has fairly unindividualized features.

      To me, this sarcophagus begins to show this shift -- clearly it's about Roman victory and strength, and presents its enemy as weak and cartoonish rather than as noble (in the way earlier statues like the Dying Gaul did.)
      (3 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user Stuart W
    We've seen a few sarcophagi now and I was wondering if they would have been buried like we bury coffins in present day, or would they be above ground, or in a shrine or... well, answer? Thanks.
    (5 votes)
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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Mathcar
    This is an obscure question, but do we make concrete the same way that the Romans made it, or is our concrete different. Thanks!
    (4 votes)
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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Karys Feguer
    They never mention this... but I have to ask. Did the Roman's intentionally carve the "Barbarians" beneath themselves? To clarify, I only saw Romans lining the top and the majority of the "Barbarians" are toward the ground as if the Romans are treading upon them (in some cases they literally are). I could only see few (two) within in the top portion of the sarcophagi. It only makes sense that this is the Romans once again asserting superiority.
    (3 votes)
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  • female robot ada style avatar for user Geraldine De Leon
    Great video. Does anyone knoe the architect?
    (4 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Katie Boltz
    Why is this considered late imperial roman art?
    (2 votes)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user Alan
    This may be a dumb question but, what happened to the guy who got buried in there?
    (3 votes)
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    • starky tree style avatar for user corvus
      I believe it would be disrespectful to open it. I mean they went through all the work to make it especially for that one person to eternally sit there, just for it to be opened the the corpse removed?
      (1 vote)
  • leaf green style avatar for user Sabīne Puste
    Was this sarcophagus painted like the greek sculptures?
    (2 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user FinallyGoodAtMath
    At , a barbarian is wearing a Phrygian cap. Was this a common way to depict barbarians?
    (1 vote)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user Daryl Norton
    Can you give us idea of the time spent to create such realistic pieces? Maybe it has been broken down to how much time would it take per square meter or something like that? Currently the apparent amount of time is beyond my comprehension.
    (2 votes)
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Video transcript

(piano music) Man: It's clear looking at this. Who the Romans are. The good guys, and who their enemies, likely the Goths. Lady: And the Romans perpetrating themselves as the good guys here, and they look more noble, more heroic. Their features are more idea. The Goths, their enemy, look almost character with puffy noses, and cheeks, and wild expressions on their faces. Man: Well, their the barbarians, and it's interesting because that's something that the Ancient Romans are borrowing directly from the Ancient Greeks. Yet, this is the style that is pulling away from the traditions of classical antiquity. Lady: In that we have none of that clear since of space around them. Instead, their piled one on top of another. Man: That's right. They've lost their autonomy in the world. They don't have room to move. Instead, we have this dense carpet of figures. We're looking at the Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus. It's this large tomb. A huge piece of marble, that has been carved in this incredibly deep relief. Lady: And the skill of the carving, I think, is one of the most remarkable things here. Not only is every area of this sarcophagus covered with figures, and horses, and shields, but there are some places where the carving is so deep that the forms, the limbs, the heads of horses are almost completely off-set from the background. There two to three or four layers of figures and forms. Man: Well, it's such a dense tangle, that it actually takes us a moment to be able to follow each body and understand where each persons body begins and ends. Lady: And when we look closely, what we see in the center at the top is obviously the hero. He is coming in on his horse. He's twisting around opening his right arm bringing his horse along with him. Look how he is off-set against his horse. He looks almost wild and passionate, but he looks calm. Man: His body is splayed out. The drape of his armor creates this radiating sense. He's almost like a sunburst in the center of this composition. Lady: Yeah and moving at the same time. In fact, everything here is moving. Man: It's almost impossible to remember that this is just static rock, because the surface is so activated. Lady: When we look closely, we see that the Romans look stern and serious. For example: The figure at the far left. He's charging into battle. So there's a sense of the seriousness of battle. Man: There are these moments of moral decision making. Look at the Roman soldier who has a captured Goth bound at the wrist. He's holding his chin, he's holding the back of his head, and you have the sense that he's making a decision as whether to be merciful or to slay this prisoner. Lady: And strangely if we look toward the bottom of the sarcophagus the figures get smaller instead of larger. Which we might expect for the horses along the bottom are smaller. The figures who are slaying or wounded on the bottom are also slightly smaller. Man: It's as if we are looking down from above some hell. We have a kind of interesting perspective that's constructed in here, certainly not linear perspective, but kind of an organizing perspective that makes sense of this complex surface. One of the issues that I find most interesting is the way in which the shields and other elements create canopies that frame individual figures, and bring our eye deeply into this composition. Lady: Look at the figure who we see in profile. Whose head is framed by two shields. Man: That's right. Peeking through at this wonderful moment. Lady: That dark shadow behind him, it's really wonderful about this sarcophagus is the alternation of light and dark that animates the surface. Where we see the most shadow and the most deep carving is in the hair of the Goths, in their faces, and the smooth surface of the marble is reserved for the Romans, who are left deeply carved. Man: That's right. That texture is associated with the enemy and a kind of roughness. Lady: We see more and more sarcophagi, or the plural of sarcophagus, beginning in the second century in Rome, and continuing through the third century. Man: Right. Previously the Romans had cremated their death, but we know that by the second century it became fashionable to bury the dead in the sarcophagus. After all it does give one the opportunity to create these monumental sculptural forms. Lady: Artisans have been trying to identify the figure whose sarcophagus this is, and they have one or two ideas, but we're not really sure. It must have been someone wealthy and powerful, because this is an enormous piece of marble. That would have taken a very long time to carve. Man: So what we can see here is a choice to move away from the high classical Greek carving that we associate with the great sculptures of the Parthenon that we know the Romans also loved. Instead, we see the intention been put on the interaction between these figures. Lady: It's important to remember than in the second and third centuries the empire was not as stable as it was in 100 or 200 years after Augustus. There's civil war, there's instability in the empire generally, and it's possible to associate this style with these political and historcial changes. Man: It might be too much to say in the chaotic qualities of this surfacing to mirror the chaos of the empire. I think it is appropriate to say that we see a turning away from the high classical tradition, and the adventure of a more complex style that is less concerned with the elegance of the individual human body. (piano music)