The History Of Egyptian, Roman And Greek Art Essay, Research Paper
Throughout the history of man, the societies which have been labeled as the “pillars of civilization” have all had one common characteristic; excellence in the arts. Each society had developed styles which were relevant to their times and philosophies, yet when observed closely, one is able to find many common similarities within each.
When one thinks of the major contributions of each of these societies, several stick out as being distinct or superior to others. These “distinct” societies include the Egyptian society the Greek society, and the Roman. Yet in order to properly assess each culture, works from each period must be explored thoroughly. For this I have chosen to compare and contrast three works from these eras: Daughters of Akhenaten (1379 – 1362 B.C.) from the Egyptian era of art, Dionysus in a Sailboat (C. 540 B.C) from the Greek era, and finally Frieze In The Villa of The Mysteries (C. 50 B.C.) from the Roman period.
Yet before one can endeavor into exploring these works, it is essential to know the characteristics of the periods from which these works came into being. The first piece, Daughters of Akhentan comes from a period of time know as the Amarna period within Egyptian art. This period had much different conventions and formal qualities compared to typical Egyptian art. Earlier Egyptian art, which was dictated by the Pharaoh, centered around figures which were expressed ideally (stylized) rather than in a naturalistic form. The anatomical attributes consisted of heads and legs which were in profile, torsos and arms which were very frontal and the vary prominent single eye. Parallel lines were also used to line up shoulders heads and arms. Furthermore, important figures were always larger than others (Hierarchic proportions), and in formal poses. And finally women were always painted white, while men always red. Yet in the Amarna period, the Pharaoh Akhenaten, encouraged a style of art which was more emotional, peaceful and spiritual. He encouraged a style of art which was true to life and expressive of one s emotions. The second piece, Dionysus in a Sailboat came from era of Greek vase (cup) art. Greek civilization was one which was characterized by the philosophy that “man is a free and worthy individual”. Their art portrayed a style of utter idealism, utilitarianism (win cup) and pure aesthetic beauty, while at the same time was used to portray myths and adorn their many gods. The third artistic culture which I have chosen to examine is that of the Romans. Roman art generally focused around utilitarian purposes, while at the same time still embodied power, realism and emotion. Their philosophy stressed that man determines his own destiny, and that uniqueness among people is what makes them special and distinct.
Now that an accurate historical overview of each individual era has been created, one can properly assess and describe the characteristics of each individual work. The first relationship which can be found within each of these pieces is that they are in essence “flat”. When looking at Daughters of Akhentan, one is able to see that the artist of this wall painting, has made little or no effort in creating any sort of depth or true perspective. The two figures, which are characterized by playful gestures, lack the shading and accurate proportions which are necessary to create these artistic factors. Furthermore the frontal poses and the use of the single eye, also add to the lack of depth in the painting, because only half of the actual head is seen by the viewer. These attributes can also be found within the Greek wine cup of Dionysus in a Sailboat. This piece which describes a myth, also lacks any depth or perspective. The main subject matter, the sailboat, lacks the shading and perspective which creates the illusion of depth. The dolphins in the piece are also very flat and unproportional to the boat. This lack of perspective can also be seen in the sail of the ship and the grapes, they too lack any lines of perspective and shading which are essential for depth. As one looks further up the art time line, this characteristic flatness can also be seen within the Roman fresco, Frieze in the Villa of The Mysteries. The utter lack of depth, as previously seen in Dionysus in a Sailboat, creates a feeling of a giant flat plane, where figures have simply been “stuck onto the wall”. There is also an insurmountable lack of shading, perspective lines and tonal variation, all of which rob the piece of any sort of depth.
As one begins to further examine these works with greater detail, other relationships become evident. The second relationship which I found existed between these works was that they were all characterized by low realism and were also very stylized. In the work, Daughters of Akhentan, one is easily able to see the lack of human form and proportion. The lack of anatomical correctness is clearly visible in the awkward position of the legs, hands, torso and shoulders. The frontal view of the figures as well as the stylized and simplified eyes, eyebrows and limbs also contribute to the paintings low level of realism. In Dionysus in a Sailboat, this same low level of realism is evident within the painting of the dolphins, and especially the ship. There is very little attention paid to the proportions in this piece, and the over simplified forms (boat, grapes, vines and dolphins) make this work very similar to the Daughters of Akhentan. As we look at the next work, Frieze in the Villa of The Mysteries we are able to see that the Roman s have made an attempt to steer away from totally stylized and simplified forms, and begin to bring some realism into their works. Although the piece has made a major step towards realism, it is undoubtedly still very stylized, as visible in the simplified hair, which is very flat and not detailed, the faces, which lack tone and structure and the clothes, which hang in an awkward manner. Also the frontal view of the figures, as in Daughters of Akhentan, also add a dimension of low realism.
The final relationships which I was able to discover within these three works dealt with the utilitarianism of the works, and the uniform balance which can be found within each. All three paintings exhibit forms of uniform balance, which create a feeling of stability and poise within the works. In Daughters of Akhentan, the hand which is extending from one of the main figures creates a sense of left side and right side balance, which ameliorates the overall look of the work. In Dionysus in a Sailboat, the placement of the sailboat in the center surrounded by dolphins all in perfect symmetry, also creates a feeling of uniform balance and stability. When looking at Frieze in the Villa of The Mysteries, a sense of uniform balance is similarly created by using equally sized figures as well as figures which are in a “balanced symmetry” with one another. If one looks closely at the Roman fresco, the number of figures used as well as how they are symmetrically and strategically placed, all add to create a sense of foundation and stability. Furthermore, I was able to draw a conclusion that all three pieces serve more purpose than conventional works have, that is that they embody a certain unique utilitarianism. Daughters of Akhentan as well as Frieze in the Villa of The Mysteries, were both painted on walls, and served not only decorative purposes, but also told stories and myths. Frieze in the Villa of The Mysteries, depicts the secret initiation rites for the Classical world, while Daughters of Akhentan depict the family love of Pharaoh Akhentan. The wine-cup, Dionysus in a Sailboat also held utilitarian uses, and at the same time aesthetic ones. It was not simply a decorative model, rather served to preserve an ancient Greek myth of Dionysus just as that in the Frieze in the Villa of The Mysteries similarly does.
Thus after having rigorously and thoroughly examined these three works, I was able to come to the conclusion that there are definite similarities and relationships which exist between each. I was also able to conclude that each period of art was greatly influenced by other previous society s styles and contents, and that each period would not have originated had it not been for their predecessors.