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Quality of Representation as a Barometer of Taste and Manner

June 21, 2011

Charles Dufresnoy, in his book The Art of Painting (1665) wrote the following:  “The principal and most important part of painting is to find out and thoroughly to understand what Nature has made most beautiful and most proper to this art; and that a choice of it may be made according to the taste and manner of the ancients; without which, all is nothing but a blind and rash barbarity.”

As we move through the time period commonly referred to as Late Antiquity, what are your thoughts on the various images of mankind seen at Dura-Europos and the catacombs?

Dura-Europos Synagogue


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  1. Silvia G permalink

    If we compare this to the classical era..within the years you could tell they lose a significance of detailing and strategy. Some of the paintings look very confusing to who’s feet or arms belong to whom and its very flat. But I think there main concern/concept was to tell a story. The drawing/painting seem more symbolic then artistic. Its very crazy how they built walls with the bone. It makes me wonder what kind of respect they had for each other?

  2. Jason Carrara permalink

    Personally, I do not care for the late antiquity period as much as the earlier Roman or Greek artistry. As discussed in class, it seems like the culture has backtracked and disregarded the concepts of proportion, distance relation, and contraposto established before them. Each figure is redundant and expressionless, and the style meanders somewhere in between realism and cartoon. The style does not celebrate the human form or examine detail. It’s too bad that we don’t see more depictions that don’t have a religious overtone.

  3. Diana Cosio permalink

    The late antiquity period is not necessarily a time during which artists lost technique in depicting the human form. More importantly, a change in priorities took place, where no longer the perfected human form was admired or even worshipped. The human form is not represented with such accuracy and detail as in the Greek and Roman ages, simply because the human form is not being celebrated. The main focus during the late antiquity period is to make people aware of how grand Christianity is. People are pushed to become more humble and see God’s love as the only thing that is perfect. And thus human form is not the focus in art, it is more about the entire composition, the biblical story, and the experience as a whole of being inside a church.

  4. Alex Trimble permalink

    To me it seems that the purpose of their art was vastly different from that of Classical Greece and Rome. Rome tended towards realism and sought to communicate power and authority. Greece sought perfection and beauty in their art, a celebration of humanity in general rather than a presentation of one individual person. I think that the time period was a backing-off as far as technical ability, but mostly because they really didn’t want the same thing from their art that Rome or Greece did. The artists of early Christianity seemed to want to illustrate their stories for presentation in locations like churches and mausoleums, maybe for teaching purposes. However, just because it is not realistic, I don’t think it necessarily means it is less valuable overall; but I do think it probably speaks to a smaller audience because it doesn’t really have as much of a humanistic, emotional aspect.

  5. Mary Anderson permalink

    I think that the artwork represented in Late Antiquity is rather dull. If I had to find something interesting about Late Antiquity it would be the fact that the art depicts the way those that commissioned the artwork thought about their religion and life. The thoughts on life and religion are depicted badly and I feel that they have taken a major step back from what the Greeks and Romans accomplished in their artwork. As for architecture I do think that Late Antiquity had some very interesting buildings. It amazes me that they were able to engineer some of the buildings they built and some still stand today.

  6. Chase Menaker permalink

    The art of Late Antiquity is somewhat dismal. It’s not that it was bad per se, they just had a different objective than Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. They wanted to tell religious stories, which they did. The images at Dura-Europas are almost utilitarian in their function, which, as an observer, is boring. Whereas the Greeks and Romans seemed more concerned with artistry and making something aesthetically pleasing in addition to telling a story. I think as modern day people we respond more to the artistry and technical skill put forth by the Greeks and Romans.

  7. Julie Dickinson permalink

    Although the artwork from Late Antiquity varies greatly from Roman and Greek work they are diverse in a way that neither are better or worse. Roman and Greek art focused on the perfect beauty of form by using great detail in their work. The figures are of importance whereas the art of Late Antiquity painted in a narrative form. Although proportion and expression of perfection might not have been important, the viewer is given the ability to recognize culture. Similar to reading a short story and or tale the viewer can see a scene of what might have been taking place.

  8. Christina Lopez permalink

    I believe that if the Christians had not been rejected as they were in the Roman Empire, they could have developed a much higher sense of art. It is amazing what they were able to accomplish with such basic tools and such environments. But the images are not focused on their skill levels as artist but as something with a deeper meaning. Keeping in mind how difficult it was during those days to express their religion and beliefs was hard enough to focus on learning a Greek level of art.So art for them, even in a less developed stage was just a means to carry out their religion and show how committed they were to being faithful to God. The art is not at a level of sophistication as the Greeks but it is truly remarkable of what can be accomplished in unusual places.

  9. Victoria Brown permalink

    During this period, the role of humanism, and the level it was at, became lost. Images were flattened and ideas changed. Forms were no longer the main goal of art, but stood as symbols to represent stories and characters. Being suppressed as they were by the Romans, I also feel a sense of limitation in the art work being produced. There is a fear that I see by the setback in their works. They felt muted and overwhelmed by authority, and this translated into quieter works of art, often blending with the walls and portraying awkward arrangements. Misinterpreting placements of hands and feet almost show how they didn’t know where they were standing in the world at this time, living in fear.

  10. Joshua Stewart permalink

    I find it fascinating how the artists of Late Antiquity found beauty in things that are commonly over looked or viewed as hideous. For example, the way human remains are arranged in many catacombs to create many pasterns. this may seem morbid ,however, one cant help but to view such displays with a sense of wonder.

  11. Cally Vaurs permalink

    It is very surprising to me that the artisans in this period seemed to take significant steps backward in their abilities compared to the Greek and Roman artisans. I can’t help but wonder what changed and how it can be possible to have such “amateur” pieces, so far off from something like the Nike of Samothrace created years before. When I think of the future I always think that things are going to be bigger and better, yet it seems that this time period did the opposite. The bodies seem stiff and rigid with no real sense of movement or proportion, much like the egyptians.

  12. Maryann Floren permalink

    In the Late Antiquity period, it shifts from Greek and Roman human form of statues to human form that is architecturally built for, religion and belief purposes. It showed what they believed in versus making a statue of a God or Goddess. I think it showed more of a realistic feel and I personally find it more interesting and I would love to go visit the Catacombs sometime to see the effort and art in the architecture that was built during these times.

  13. Bryan Yim permalink

    Comparing to the Greek and early Roman period, the art world seem to have a major decline during the Lage Antiquity period. they seemed to be unable to upkeep the sense of affiction toward the beauty of the motion in a human body. As they changed their believe system, they seem to no longer adore the human body the way they did due to the discipline of the religion. By building the catacombs, I think that they have returned to the ancient cave life way of doing art.

  14. The emotionless and repetitive faces/figures all look the same in this era, but who says their art has to detailed and they have to live up to that of the Romans and Greeks? They were in dark times, and in such a secretive time in Christianity’s history, people didn’t have the same leeways in creating expressionistic works of art. I feel as though they were in a life-time crunch and were making their art sole for getting their point across and creating a narrative in which if you look at it, you would understand what the point of their work/story was. I believe the artwork during Dura-Europos was not created for people to ponder the figures emotions and wonder what the artist was thinking when they painted it. The artisits wanted you to know exactly what they were thinking. When art becomes more advanced and something that people focus on whether it be for personal or religious reasons, there needs to be space for them to do that, and this was not that time.

    Devin Cook

  15. Danielle Nazareno permalink

    The Late Antiquity, although not the most impressive time period for art, but still significant. It still possess a sense of uniqueness and dark creativity. The artists unconcern for proportions of figures, the indescribable catacombs, and dark tones scare me. This isn’t my favorite time period, the art makes me anxious and as I was researching more of the Dura Europos artwork, my sister managed to knock on the door and it scared me pretty bad. Other than that, the art may not have been advanced and skillful, but I think the style was still necessary.

  16. Ed Goodman permalink

    It seems to like the artists of this period seem uninterested in the details of the drawing and more interested in the telling of a story through their works. In the late antiquity period it is hard to tell which limbs belong to which person in some of the works. In many ways in seems very sloppy. It was no where as detailed as the Roman and Greek works of art but I think that’s because the Romans and Greeks were solely focused on portraying people in the best light and by keeping them looking godlike, where with the late antiquity they are more focused on telling a story and proclaiming their admiration of Jesus and christianity.

  17. Kellilyn Monar permalink

    I do not care for the art of the late antiquity period. I am a big fan of realism, and clearly the art of this period is not very realistic. Proportions are off, and the art is very stylized. I do believe however, that realism was not important to them. Greeks and Romans were more focused on perfecting the human form, making it as real as possible. The art of late antiquity is directed towards telling the stories of the bible, and making people believe in Christianity. To tell every story, the artwork had to be done quickly, they did not have the time to perfect the image and make it real. As long as people could tell what was going on, that’s all that mattered. You could tell who the person was, and his importance by the color he was wearing, or if he had the ora of light behind him. Realism was not necessary.

  18. I think that although the catacombs are extremely interesting and obviously highly influential they are quite disturbing to me. I can not even imagine what it would feel like to be down in the catacombs surrounded by all of the dead bodies, I can only imagine that it would be a very surreal feeling. As for Dura-Europes I absolutely love everything about this area. I love that there seems to be a real sense of acceptance for different religions and one another. It really appears as though the different cultures were learning how to accept one another and embrace one anothers differences. It is absolutely magnificent that for how old they are they are still so well preserved not only in architectural form but also the artwork inside of each of the buildings.

  19. Lindsey Paige permalink

    I am intrigued by the rapid shift in focus that occurred in Europe during this time. In some ways, I feel as though art took a leap forward, since the focus went from depicting a deity or a moment in time to expressing a narrative. I also feel as though it giant step backwards in regards to realism and depicting the human form though. It is easy to tell that this is a result of a shifting of focus, I suppose I just wish there could have been a bit of a middle ground, rather than a sudden shift in direction.

  20. Cristine LIm permalink

    I feel as though the advancement in technical aspects of the artworks were lost through time. The figures are not as realistic and are shaped with strange proportions. They have a flat sense of dimension and the figure-ground relationship is skewed. As for positive aspects, they convey storytelling well and get their purpose across without as much detail. Sometimes, simplicity can work in favor of the art.

  21. Ngoc Le permalink

    Even Late Antique art does not emphasize the beauty and movement of the body in sculpture like the Classical period of Greek art, it does have a spiritual reality behind it. They are not really interest in paintings and sculptures rather than mosaics, architecture, and relief sculpture. They used the Roman mosaic to decorate walls and ceilings of buildings. Also, their frescoes were very realistic.

  22. Irene Webber permalink

    It was really surprising for me to see how much accuracy in detail was lost from the Classical period. I had never realized there had been such a step backwards in the realistic nature of art. However, even with the lack of skill I can really appreciate the meaning behind their work. It seems like they were more focused on the message they were giving than their technique.

  23. Brook Haller permalink

    Even though they did in fact revert back to a more archaic form of graphic representation, it was not without cause. They were producing their art in secret. They weren’t able to cultivate their art or take the time to teach/learn technique. It makes sense that they would not be able to express graphics in the same manner as the Greek and Romans. The Greeks and Romans publicly cultivated their art, their techniques, and their skills. The Early Christians were relegated to secret churches in private residences and could even be punished for the smallest perceived hand gesture. That is not an environment where art flourishes and grows. Thus, it is not surprising that their art and graphics were rudimentary.

  24. They no longer hold the detail, precision, or perspective that the classical Greek and Roman artists mastered. Art proves to be an extension of the beliefs of the society of the time. The classical Romans and the Greeks idolized the human form. The Christian Church came to dominate late antiquity and its priorities were not of this world. It was not as important to accurately portray human figures or landscapes.

  25. Laura Cruz permalink

    I felt they were going backwards because they lost a lot of detail in the human figure which you would think it would’ve gotten better from the Greek’s and Romans. But i got to admit it was probably hard working in the catacombs with all the dead bodies decaying, the awful smell, and just knowing they were working around the dead.

  26. Alex Kereczman permalink

    The new representation style of mankind is indeed a step backwards, however I believe it made a step forward in symbolism and storytelling in the art. The extreme shift in art is still played out today, from depicting ultra realistic forms to more abstract forms. The idea of mixing more the perfected bits of nature and injecting the taste and manner of society is completely right, and does more to describe all forms of art. The fear of idolatry is known as a part of society, so the artists remove the ultra realism and inject their symbolism in place of that. In the end, it balances out, creating lovely works either way.

  27. Mike Bautista permalink

    I think many people will say that the depiction of the human form during the Late Antiquity period is a step down in quality when compared to what the Greeks and Romans did. But I have to wonder by what means did these people measure this quality? Does something have to look “perfect” for it to be considered “good?”Some have already pointed out that priorities have changed during Late Antiquity. People hadn’t the time or care to consider what lessons in perspective and observation were learned by their predecessors. This would obviously effect how their art is created. But I also believe that this style that was developed was just a natural progression of art in general. Where is one to go after reaching “perfection?” What is there to do with it? Why continue emulating it? I think there was an unspoken sense of boredom with what the Greeks and Romans had done. Art is constantly changing and shifting. It can’t stay in any one particular era, lest it wants to be stagnant and stop growing. If art was to continue to develop and explore, it was essential to stop copying what’s already been done.One must consider what was accomplished when they did that. They developed a greater understanding of symbolism and metaphors. Artistic language and the visual narrative benefited greatly with this new focus.

  28. Lucy Glover permalink

    As we move past the Late Antiquity period, I have noticed
    the distinct difference between this period compared to
    the others. There is a great amount of details in each
    work along with narrations of religious references.
    For example, the Dura-Europos Synagogue was covered in
    narrations that were very detailed and must have required
    a lot of effort.

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