Sunday, 22 Sep 2019

Ancient Rome. Culture And Art

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The exhibition of the Culture and Art of Ancient Rome

The exhibition of the Culture and Art of Ancient Rome is rich in all the main types of Roman sculpture: religious statuary, plastic portraiture, reliefs, and decorative sculpture. An outstanding specimen of Roman religious sculpture is the colossal statue of Jupiter, father of the gods and protector of the Roman state, found in the 19th century during excavations of an ancient temple on the outskirts of Rome. The statue belongs to the 1st century A.D., a time when the might of Rome was growing, a time marked by impressive architecture (the Colosseum, the Titus Arch, etc.) and numerous sculptures. It was inspired by the statue of Zeus made for the temple in Olympus by the great Greek sculptor Phidias in the 5th century B.C. which has not survived, but served as a model for many later works by ancient masters. In keeping with the ideas of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, who “personified” their gods, the sculptor depicts Jupiter as a strong and impressive man sitting on a throne.

 

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Ancient Rome. Culture And Art. Hermitage

Ancient Rome. By the feet of the father of the gods is his companion the eagle. In  one hand Jupiter is holding a scepter, the symbol of power over the whole world, and in the other, a figurine of Victoria, the goddess of victory. The statue was executed in the acrolithic technique (marble combined with gilded wood). The cloak is draped in wide folds from the shoulder, covers the knees and hangs from the base, making the composition look firm and solid. Originally made of gilded wood, it was restored in tinted plaster. The statue’s vast dimensions (even more obvious by comparison with the figurine of Victoria), the regular features of the serene face framed with long, flowing locks, the semi-nude muscular body, and the triumphant pose create an impression of strength and majesty, imparting an idealised and monumental character to the figure. An important place in the exhibition is occupied by  Roman portrait sculptures.  The Hermitage possesses about 120 of them.

 

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Ancient Rome. Culture And Art. Hermitage

Ancient Rome. This is one of the best collections in the world, enabling us to trace the development of portrait sculpture from the 1st century B.C., when the portrait became an independent genre in Rome, to the 4th century A. D., the time of the fall of Rome. The development of Roman portrait art was originally connected largely with the ancient custom of making a death mask of an eminent citizen and keeping it in the dead man’s home. Molded in plaster and cast in wax, the mask reproduced the facial features with minute detail. But, naturally, it was not a work of art, not an artistic image. It was most important, therefore, that the Romans became acquainted with Greek sculpture, particularly portrait sculpture which was transported to Rome during its wars of conquest and adorned Roman temples, squares and houses. The Roman masters gradually renounced documentary accuracy of masks and went in for a generalised treatment of the facial features; they also turned to what was for them a new material-marble; finally, they used new artistic methods.

 

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Ancient Rome. Culture And Art. Hermitage

Ancient Rome. Unlike the Greek sculptors, however, who usually made statues, the Romans tended to make busts, concentrating attention on the human face and seeking for the maximum of expression. They produced excellent portraits of emperors, public figures, generals and citizens, remarkable for their profound characterization and skilled execution, which conveyed an external likeness and revealed the person’s nature and the spirit of the age in which he lived. Examples are the remarkable portraits of the emperors Lucius Verus (co-ruler with Marcus Aurelius) and Balbinus, the Empress of Salona (Etruscilla?), the “Portrait of a Syrian Woman” and a number of others. One of the finest specimens is the bust of the 3rd-century Roman Emperor  Philip the Arab. He was a barbarian from Arabia, the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, who overthrew his predecessor with the support of the army and seized power in Rome for a short time (244-249).

 

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Ancient Rome. Culture And Art. Hermitage

Ancient Rome. The close-cropped, squarish head, the lines on the forehead, the beetling brows, the tight lips, and the deep creases on the weather-beaten, badly shaven face give a vivid impression of the “soldier emperor”. Even the treatment of the dress with its large, heavy folds stresses the man’s brute physical strength and gloomy, imperious character. This portrait contains features characteristic of late Roman art (3rd century), in particular, the influence of barbarian culture. The same room contains marble Roman sarcophagi which usually served as tombstones (and were sometimes placed on paths leading to temples). The outside was decorated with reliefs. One of them shows a wedding with the gods among the guests.This combination in one scene of real people and gods, who become direct participants in Roman life. Is typical of the many narrative reliefs which were popular in Rome. Decorative sculpture also acquired great importance in Rome. Room 108 next door contains numerous specimens which once adorned the flower-beds and fountains of peristyles (the inner courtyards of Greek and Roman houses).

 

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Ancient Rome. Culture And Art. Hermitage

Ancient Rome. The exhibits of decorative sculpture in this room are Roman copies of Greek originals. The room itself, with its marble walls and colonnade framing the central sections of four sides, is somewhat reminiscent of these courtyards. The statue of Venus of Taurida in the next Room 109 is a park sculpture of the Hellenistic period. In the 1770s this statue stood in the palace of Prince Potemkin of Taurida, hence its name.Its most important prototype was the statue of Aphrodite of Knidos (4th century B.C.) The unknown sculptor of the 3rd century B.C. showed Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, in the nude. The slender figure, the round, flowing lines of the silhouette, the softly modeled shape of the body, all testify to a lively and sensitive perception of female beauty. Alongside the calm restraint (pose, facial expression), the generalised manner void of fragmentation and minor detail and a number of other features typical of Classical art (5th-4th centuries B.C.), the creator of the Venus of Taurida embodied in it his concept of beauty, associated with the ideals of the 3rd century B.C. (light proportion- the high waist, longish legs, slender neck, small head, turn of body and head, etc.).

 

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Ancient Rome. Culture And Art. Hermitage

Ancient Rome. The Venus of Taurida is interesting not only as a splendid specimen of ancient sculpture, but as the first antique statue to be brought to Russia. It was discovered in Rome during excavations in 1718. Yuri Kologrivov, entrusted by Peter I with looking after a group of Russian painters studying in Italy, heard of the remarkable find. He quickly purchased the statue, which even then specialists were comparing with the famous Venus de Medici from the collection of the family which ruled Florence. Before dispatching the Venus to St. Petersburg Kologrivov sent it to the workshop of a sculptor called Legros to have the lost details restored (the arms had been broken off in ancient times). But this was never done, for the purchase was confiscated. The Roman governor forbade it to be taken out of the country. Only the personal intervention of Peter the Great, who offered the Pope the relics of St. Brigitta in return for the statue, decided the issue. An exchange of gifts took place (hence the presentation inscription engraved in bronze on the sculpture’s pedestal), and Venus finally arrived at St. Petersburg in 1720 after a long journey. She came to the Hermitage with other antiquities in the middle of the 19th century after the New Hermitage was built. Those following the shortest museum itinerary now proceed to the exhibition of Ancient Greek Culture and Art.

 

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