MEDIEVAL ART

Christianity altered artistic styles and artists’ motivations in the waning days of the Roman Empire. When Constantine declared Christianity the state religion of the Empire in AD 313, the doctrines of that religion infiltrated the Geist. Plotinus (Roman philosopher, c. AD 200) advocated a shift in artistic efforts. He argued that artists rather than obsessing over the superficial realities of human bodies (anatomically correct muscles and bones, proportional accuracies, and varied hills and valleys) and the representation of absolute perfection in its fashionable and elegant glory, should focus on what lies beneath that surface. The human body ages, becomes diseased, and dies; it is the soul that is eternal. Therefore, artists in their attempt to depict “people” should represent their interiorities, characters or personalities, rather than exteriorities, their flesh and passing cultural ideals. Upon completion of his tombs of Lorenzo and Giuliano de Medici, Michelangelo was questioned as to his portrayal of the two men. Michelangelo had been “adopted” by the Medici family, had grown up with the two boys, and even dined at their table. And so, why didn’t he represent them as realistically as he could have? The artist responded that five hundred years into the future, no one would care as to what they looked like. Future generations would only inquire as to their character.
 

 

  PUT INTO THIS BOX IMAGE TITLED “SARCOPHAGUS”

The transition from the Greek and Roman ideals to the Christian ideal is evident in the Sarcophagus of Dionysos and the Seasons, c.220-30. Though pagan rather than Christian in narrative content, the relatively late date suggests the influence of Plotinus. What happened to the beauty of the bodies? What happened to the muscular builds of the athletes and soldiers? As Plotinus advocated, art should not focus on the exteriorities of the human body, should not delight or obsess over the vanity of the perfect face or slim torso or abdominals; art should focus on creating a mood or character. Anatomy? Eye sockets, nose, chin, pectorals, pudgy stomachs, knees, swollen feet. Biological? The bodies and their surfaces are becoming softer and puffier, lacking in the textural and hard-edged detail. Proportions? The heads are large in proportion to the bodies; the hips are large. Mass? Eyes are set into the sockets; nose and chin come outward. However, much of the lumpiness, or hills and valleys, are misplaced. Naked or Nude? This is an abstract ideal based on shapes and design elements that neglect the details of biological anatomy. What was the artist’s intention? Possibly to represent an ideal narrative that exists in the mind, disegno interno, and escape from the materialism and physicality of worldly reality.