Roman Gothic and Early Middle Ages Essay

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Roman, Islamic and Early Middle Ages

Roman, Islamic, and Early Middle Ages

Art: Roman, Islamic, and Early Middle Ages

Art forms and styles differ from period to period and for culture to culture. They often display different characteristics that pertain to that particular culture or time period. In understanding the history of art we also have to take into account the historical, cultural and other conditions that prevailed at the time and which may have affected the type and style of art that was created. This refers particularly to different religious perceptions and orientations

At the same time understanding a piece of art in the context of its period and historical- cultural matrix is never a simple process. There are many factors and complexities that come into play in the analysis of any one work of art. Another aspect that will be explored in this paper is the comparison of styles and forms of art from different cultures and periods of history. This paper will attempt to discuss these different works not only in terms of their dissimilarities but also in terms of any similarities that can be found. The following study will also provide a very brief overview of the different periods and cultures as a precursor to the more in-depth discussion of selected artworks from periods and cultures.

2. Roman art

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Roman art refers to the visual art that was created during the history of the Roman Empire and which relates to the cultural milieu of ancient Rome. Roman art includes many types of art such as architecture, painting, sculpture and mosaic work as well as other art forms, such as metalwork, gem engraving, ivory carvings, pottery and miniature book illustrations.

Essay on Roman Gothic and Early Middle Ages Assignment

Central to the style of Roman art is that they inherited many of the views and perceptions about art from the ancient Greek civilization. This refers in particular to Roman sculpture which was deeply influenced by the Greek understanding and predilection for the human form. This aspect will also form a focus of the following discussion. There were also other influences that should be considered in an analysis of Roman art. These include Etruscan, as well as Egyptian cultural influences.

It is important to realize the impact of these various influences. As one commentator notes:

As Roman domination spread through Italy, Europe and the Mediterranean & #8230; Roman art absorbed this Etruscan style and the Etruscan influence included temple architecture, sculpture, portraiture and wall painting. Rome was also deeply influenced by the art of the Hellenistic world, which had spread to southern Italy and Sicily through the Greek colonies there. (Roman art)

3. Islamic art

Islamic art is usually defined as art produced in Islamic countries from the seventh century onwards. A general definition of Islamic art is as follows:

The term Islamic art not only describes the art created specifically in the service of the Muslim faith (for example, a mosque and its furnishings) but also characterizes the art and architecture historically produced in the lands ruled by Muslims, produced for Muslim patrons, or created by Muslim artists.

(The Nature of Islamic Art.)

One of the central characteristics which distinguished this art from Western art in Europe is the relative absence of the human figure or rather the reduction of emphasis on the human element. This is due to Islamic religious views which tend to see the human figure as inappropriate in works of art. It is seen as a form of idolatry or idol worship which would go against the tenets of the Koran.

On the other hand Islamic art is not only religious in nature but refers to the rich and varied Islamic culture. One also has to bear in mind the complex historical antecedents of Islamic art. For example, that many countries that the Muslims conquered had artistic traditions that were absorbed into Islamic art. " With its geographic spread and long history, Islamic art was inevitably subject to a wide range of regional and even national styles and influences as well as changes within the various periods of its development " (The Nature of Islamic Art). Furthermore, Islamic art is noted for its strong aesthetic appeal and its unique balance between design and form that very often transcends cultural differences.

4. Early Middle Ages

In historical terms this period of history is referred to as the "Period in European history traditionally dated from the fall of the Roman Empire to the dawn of the Renaissance" (Middle Ages). As a result of the decline of the Roman Empire, European society was exposed to a wide variety of new social and cultural influences. This was to start a series of changes in the cultures of Europe that would lead to the Renaissance. For example, this change was characterized by "… the emergence of Gothic architecture, the appearance of new religious orders, and the expansion of learning and the university" among others (Middle Ages).

In terms of art this meant, for example, that the decorative arts of the Celtic and Germanic barbarians were incorporated into Christian art. This led to new artistic forms and content. Among the most important art forms of this period were the impressive and ornately decorated manuscripts by monks on vellum (Art and architecture of the Early Middle Ages). These will be further discussed below.

5. Discussion of Artworks

As has been suggested above, Islamic art like many other cultural forms of art is "…the mirror of a culture and its world view" (Siddiqui). This could also apply to the analysis of Roman and Medieval art. However, with Islamic art we encounter an art form that is particularly strongly linked to the cultural and religious milieu from which it originates. In Islamic art we find that not only does Islamic art reflect the cultural values of Islamic countries but "…even more importantly, the way in which its adherents, the Muslims, view the spiritual realm, the universe, life, and the relationship of the parts to the whole" (Siddiqui).

There are two central aspect of this form of art that can be isolated in a number of examples; these are the religious injunction against idolatry and the general view that to represent something in art was the function of Gods and not human beings. As a result much of the art in older Islamic cultures is decorative and abstract.

The idea behind the condemnation of making images of prophets and saints, and of adoring these images and tombs, was that such practices materialized worship, which belongs to God alone. Likewise, the creation of representational images by artists was condemned because only God is able to give life to creation. (ISLAMIC ART AND ARCHITECTURE)

This results in art that limits the representation of the figure as a consequence of cultural views and perceptions. When figures do appear they are secondary to the religious features of the artwork. As a result in general Islamic artists "….did not develop an understanding of anatomy, musculature, and perspective" and they "…channeled their energies into the development of decorative patterns; based on geometric forms…" (ISLAMIC ART AND ARCHITECTURE)

A good example of this particular style of art is the abstract motifs and decorative emblems in the following artwork.

Figure1. A glazed ceramic tile: Iran: Late Fifteenth century.

( Source:

The above work of art clearly shows the religious and cultural motivation that lies behind Islamic art. In the first place the centre of the work represented the dome of as mosque -- which is as central symbol of Islamic religion and culture. Secondly, the calligraphic script that borders the central symbol is intended to be both a decorative as well as an abstract and informative element of the tile. The script refers to the religious context of the artwork as a whole and the entire work becomes an example of the way that art serves religion in Islamic culture.

The above example differs markedly from the human -- centered world of Roman art. An example of Roman art is human figuration and strong sculptures. A Good example is the statue of Augustus of Primaporta.

Figure 2. Augustus of Primaporta: early 1st century CE: Marble.

( Source:

This is a statue of the mighty and revered Augustus Caesar. It represents pomp and power and human achievement -- which are very different to the abstract humility of Islamic art. Once again we can refer to the way that culture plays a decisive role in the form and content of art. In this sculpture we note that the human form is clearly outlined and the sculpture in the first place is a celebration of the human.

Secondly, the raised hand and the military accoutrements of the figure attest to his high social position and the conquering and all powerful nature of the Roman Empire at the time. The statue is a symbol of human triumph and achievement which reflects the vast and dominating Roman Empire of the time. This is in strong contrast to the Islamic emphasis on the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Roman Gothic and Early Middle Ages.  (2010, January 21).  Retrieved January 24, 2021, from

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"Roman Gothic and Early Middle Ages."  21 January 2010.  Web.  24 January 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Roman Gothic and Early Middle Ages."  January 21, 2010.  Accessed January 24, 2021.