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it's clear looking at this who the Romans are the good guys and who their enemies likely the Goths and the Romans are portraying themselves as the good guys here and they look more noble more heroic their features are more ideal and the Goths their enemy look almost caricature with puffy noses and cheeks and wild expressions on their face well they're the barbarians and it's interesting because that's something that the ancient Romans are borrowing directly from the ancient Greeks and yet this is a style that is pulling away from the traditions of classical antiquity in that we have none of that clear sense of space around them instead they're piled one on top of another 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 loot OVC battle sarcophagus it's this large tomb a huge piece of marble that has been carved in this incredibly deep relief 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 offset from the background there are two to three or four layers of figures and forms 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 person's body begins and ends 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 but look at how he's offset against his horse who looks almost wild and passionate but he looks calm his body is splayed out and the drape of his armor upgrades this radiating sense he's almost like a sunburst in the center of this composition and moving at the same time affect everything here is moving it's almost impossible to remember that this is just static rock because the surface is so activated when we look closely we see that the Romans look Stern and serious for example the figure at the far left who's charging into battle so there's a sense of the seriousness of battle 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 it would be merciful or to slay this prisoner and strangely it was we look toward the bottom of the sarcophagus the figures get smaller instead of larger which we might expect so the horses along the bottom are smaller the figures who are slain or wounded along the bottom are also slightly smaller it's as if we are looking down from above somehow and so we have a kind of interesting perspective that's constructed in here certainly not linear perspective but a kind of 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 sort of bring our eye deeply into this composition look at the figure who we see in profile whose head is framed by two shields that's right peeking through it's kind of this wonderful moment and that dark shadow behind him what's really wonderful about the 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 less deeply carved well that's right so that texture is associated with the enemy and a kind of roughness we see more and more sarcophagi or the plural of sarcophagus beginning in the second century in Rome and continuing into the third century right previously the Romans had cremated their dead but we know that by the second century had become fashionable to bury the dead in a sarcophagus and after all it does give one an opportunity to create these monumental sculptural forms our historians have been trying to identify the figure whose sarcophagus this is and they have one or two ideas we're not really sure but 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 so what we can see here is a choice to move away from the kind classical Greek carving that we associate with the great sculptures of the Parthenon that we know the Romans also loved instead we see the attention being put on the interaction between these figures it's important to remember that in the 2nd and 3rd centuries the Empire was not as stable as it was in the hundred or two hundred years after Augustus there's civil war there's instability and the Empire generally and it's possible to associate this style with these political and historical changes it might be too much to say and the chaotic qualities of the surface seem to mirror the chaos of the Empire but I think it is appropriate to say that we see of turning away from the high classical tradition and the invention of a more complex style that is less concerned with the elegance of the individual human body you
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