Roman Portraits

Roman Portraits

Roman Portraits

Roman Portraits

Excerpt

Other nations likewise, earlier peoples separated from the Romans by hundreds or thousands of years, were acquainted with the art of portraiture. The Egyptians made likenesses of their kings, officials, priests, and court ladies, magical harbourage for the soul which had become homeless after the death of the body; structures of hard stone, composed of separate facets, of signs commemorating what was thought essential. Besides this there was a minor art, which worked with soft fabrics, producing portraits more natural and less stylized, likenesses of peasants, slaves, prisoners, and barbarians. The Greeks had their art of portraiture, in which a victorious youth would lend his features to images of the gods, while the portrait of the general, the philosopher, or the poet was fashioned like a statue of the divine, and was given superhuman touches. And just as, for the Hellenes, the divine remained a generalisation and intensification of the human, so did Hellenic art retain this generalisation and intensification of human bodily phenomena in their quasi-divinity. The Greeks did not endeavour to reproduce particular details, but to present a picture in which had been elaborated the idea they embodied. Hence arose the contradiction, that the Egyptians, who regarded the body as no more than a temporary domicile for the soul, and the soul as the only true reality, tried, in their art, to keep close to the aspects of the body, whereas the Greeks, for whom the body was the only reality and the soul nothing more than a transient breath that inspired the body, did not attempt to reproduce a fugitive similarity, but to depict an eternal identity.

The portraits of Chephren and Akhenaton, however much stylized, are . . .

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