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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Arch of Constantine

This massive, three portal, triumphal arch commemorates Constantine’s victory over Maxentius at the battle of Milvian Bridge in AD 312, as the laudatory inscription indicates.  The entire arch suggests his power over any possible threat.  Constantine reused reliefs from Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius’ triumphal arches, as seem in the image below.  
The term for repurposed art is spolia.  Each of these reliefs express the Roman ideals of strength, piety, and courage visually.  Compared to the reliefs created in Constantine’s time, the figures from the older triumphal arches are much more idealized and recognizable while Constantine’s reliefs are more in the style of the Late Imperial period: abstracted and symbolic. 

This massive architectural structure, constructed during the Late Roman Empire, represents Emperor Constantine’s power and military victory over the Dacians and Maxentius at the battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 AD. Among the few remaining arches in Rome, Constantine expresses his unification of the Roman Empire from the prior tumultuous tetrarchy. In addition, the domination and might of Constantine is explicitly recognizable through the spolia, a term for reused building materials. Objects from Hadrian, Trajan, and Marcus Aurelius’ monuments were placed on this three portal arch with the intention of dictating to the Roman people that Constantine was as powerful and successful as these previous Roman rulers.

The subject matter of the Arch of Constantine begins at the bottom with depictions of the defeated in a new sense of style with larger bodily features and a more rigid stance as this architecture serves as a bridge from the classical into the medieval world. In the middle, Constantine places spolia from Hadrian’s monument not only linking him with Hadrian but also proving to his people his rounded character with references to hunting and philosophy. Lastly, the top layer illustrates prisoners, those captured from this military defeat, with abnormal clothing—pants, not the conventional togas worn at the time. 

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