Free Essay: An Understanding Ancient Portraits

Published: 2023-03-20
Free Essay: An Understanding Ancient Portraits
Type of paper:  Term paper
Categories:  History Culture Arts Ancient history
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1291 words
11 min read

Different works in the ancient history of art have helped to go beyond different interpretations of art with people gaining a concern of understanding ancient portraits and images in terms of broader political, cultural and historical contexts. The late Republican portraitures offered traditional explanations of antecedent influences that led to the origin of verism and Hellenistic realism. The Verism origins have been replaced by a need for people to have an interpretation of different portraits as those which function in political and historical contexts that seek to explain the visual patterning that each of them had on its country.

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Roman Portraits

Augustus of Primaporta. By Augustus in 20 B.C.E.

Roman art was closely related to politics and the propaganda that the individual in the portrait used to run different political activities. Augustus, who was the first emperor of the leaders of Roman used statues for propaganda, and he invoked the power of imagery to ensure that his ideology was adequately communicated (Spanswick 1). The portrait was discovered in Italy in the year 1863 and has been used as evidence of Augustus' power as emperor. The portrait also shows Augustus to be a victor in military activities and a huge follower of the Roman religion. The Pax Romana was brought out by this portrait as the 200-year period of peace that was realized as a result of Augustus creating a chance for peace in the region.

The portrait above shows the emperor dressed in military clothes and his hand rose, which is evidence that he was addressing his military troops to protect the country or to go to battle. These are both pieces of evidence of the fact that the emperor had great power as a conqueror of world militaries and an army leader who was respected by many (Spanswick 1). The breastplate that Augustus is wearing in the portrait shows that he had the gods, both Sol and Caelus, by his side. The two figures on the side of his breastplate are a Roman and a Parthian which also show that he was the reason why the Pax Romana was very successful in the Roman Empire.

Byzantine Icon

The Emperor Triumphant (Barberini Ivory) was given to Cardinal Barberini at the beginning of the sixth century by Nicolas Claude. This portrait is evidence of the military power and triumphant victory of emperor Justinian that existed in the Byzantine Empire. The Barbarian kings and several other regional officials are shown at the back of the portrait, and the emperor of Australis is on the forefront (Spanswick 1). The upper part also showed the glorification of Christ to enable the viewer to realize how much power the emperor had over his subordinates and that Christ had blessed the emperor to ensure that all battles led by the emperor are a victory. The woman that holds the right foot of the emperor resembles the earth and how it submitted to the military power led by Justinian. People from all corners of the region came to pay their tribute to the emperor as they saw him as a conqueror of all lands and an omnipotent being that triumphed over all people and lands he wanted.

Justinian and the Empire he led were able to overcome different obstacles together, even after being surrounded by different enemies after the Western Roman Empire collapsed. The different enemies that pose a threat to this empire were Persian and Slavic, and they were crushed by the emperor (Spanswick 1). The idea of Christianity was also brought out in this portrait, and the Barberini Ivory allowed the empire to influence most of the people there who were street merchants and farmers.

Early Medieval Art

The Sutton Hoo Helmet was buried in 625 CE, and it belonged to a great leader of Anglia and was found buried in 1939 during and excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship excavation site. The helmet was an icon in the early medieval period because it showed that the leader who possessed it had an unusual taste for unique and rare battle equipment that proved how much he meant to his people in guiding them to successful battles (Spanswick 1). The helmet was made up of a neck guard, face mask, iron cap and cheek pieces with different decorations of animal ornament and heroic warriors who were evidence of the success that the leader who wore this experienced in his years of ruling.

The tinned copper panels that covered it led to a formation of an image of a flying beast that was characterized by the mouth, eyebrows and nose of the helmet. East Anglia shared a lot of traditions of cultural activities with Sweden, and this was evidence that only people of great status in the society or in the political ground could own the helmet (Kuesel 1). The ends of the helmet also had a head of a gilded boar which signified that the warrior who wielded it was strong and courageous and most likely died in the course of a war where his ship was buried together with his remains.

Romanesque Building Vs Gothic Building

The Romanesque building in Catalonia North East of Spain is a beautiful art that was evident in the late 10th Century. The Catalan Romanesque architecture for the building was associated with the church and other church convents and monasteries (Kuesel 1). There were also other architecture works that were non-religious, and they included palaces and castles where emperors and kings lived. The Romanesque churches were fitted with tall bell towers that rose to the sky with the bulk they possessed being broken at different parts by small windows that served the purpose of letting light in the interior of the building.


Gothic buildings were made of pointed roof arches while Romanesque buildings mostly had round arches. Another major difference between the two buildings is that Gothic buildings had huge windows which were made of too much-stained glass (Kuesel 1). The Romanesque buildings, on the other hand, were made up of small windows which were not as stained as the Gothic ones. The romanesque architecture involved combinations of Byzantine and Roman styles to accommodate the huge numbers of rulers, peasants and craftspeople who travelled regularly. Gothic architecture, on the other hand, used a combination of Romanesque and Renaissance architectures and began mainly for the purposes of religion with tall heights that made people travel from all over the world to honor them and worship.


Both buildings underwent different modifications as more techniques and changes were incorporated for better accommodation of the ancient arts in the modern world. Both types of buildings were used in cathedrals, churches and huge castles with huge popularity in the middle ages from 800 A.D. to 1500 A.D (Kuesel 1). Both buildings were massive structures that required strong devices for support such as vaults, heavy walls, and thick buttresses. Both buildings also used arches even though they were of different shapes and sizes.


A need for people to have an interpretation of different portraits as those which function in political and historical contexts that seek to explain the visual patterning that each of them had on its country has been on the rise. The portraits described depicting the status of different leaders in military positions and the way that certain buildings were built and used in the past with different similarities and differences. Certain objects that different leaders wore in the past also played a huge role in determining whether the leader was strong and fierce with effective political goals or they were weak and always worn the battles they led their soldiers.

Works Cited

Kuesel, Christy. "7 Ancient Roman Sculptures You Need To Know". Artsy, 2019,

Spanswick, Valerie. "Smarthistory". Smarthistory.Org, 2019,

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