02. Ancient Mediterranean, Art & Humanities

AP Art History: Cultural Contexts of Ancient Mediterranean Art

AP Art History: Cultural Contexts of Ancient Mediterranean Art
*Note: The enduring “Enduring understanding,” “Learning Objective,” & “Essential Knowledge” language comes from the 2019 AP Art History Curriculum and Exam Guide.

Enduring Understanding: Cultural practices, belief systems, and physical setting constitute an important part of art and art making and are often communicated in various stylistic conventions and forms. Such cultural considerations may affect artistic decisions that include, but are not limited to, siting, subject matter, and modes of display, and may help to shape the creation of art in a given setting or within a given culture.

Learning Objective: Explain how cultural practices, belief systems, and/or physical setting affect art and art making.

Essential Knowledge:  The art of the ancient Near East (present-day Iraq, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Cyprus, from 3500 to 330 BCE) is associated with successive city-states and cultural powers—Sumerian, Akkadian, Neo-Sumerian and Babylonian, Assyrian, Neo- Babylonian, and Persian. Religion plays a significant role in the art and architecture of the ancient Near East, with cosmology guiding representation of deities and kings who themselves assume divine attributes.

Ancient Near Eastern cosmology:

Essential Knowledge: The art of dynastic Egypt (present-day Egypt and Sudan, from 3000 to 30 BCE) generally includes coverage of predynastic Egypt and Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms. The Amarna period (New Kingdom) was also important because of its cultural reform and stylistic revolution. The art of dynastic Egypt embodies a sense of permanence. It was created for eternity in the service of a culture that focused on preserving a cycle of rebirth.

Ancient Egyptian art of permanence:

Amarna period:

Essential Knowledge: Egyptian art incorporates mythological and religious symbolism, often centered on the cult of the sun. Representations of humans make clear distinctions between the deified pharaoh and people in lower classes, using representational and stylistic cues such as hierarchical proportion and idealization versus naturalism. Approaches to portraiture depend on a figure’s rank in society. The artistic canon of dynastic Egypt, with strict conventions of representation, use of materials, and treatment of forms, was followed for many centuries with only short-lived periods of experimentation and deviation. Innovations in art and architecture tended to occur within the basic and established scheme.

Ancient Egyptian canon:

Deviations in the Ancient Egyptian canon:

Essential Knowledge: Ancient Greek art was produced in Europe and western Asia, primarily in the region of present-day Greece, Turkey, and southern Italy, from 600 BCE to 100 CE. Etruscan art (c. 700–100 BCE, from the region of Etruria in central Italy) and ancient Roman art was produced in Europe and western Asia from c. 753 bce to 337 CE. Art considered Ancient Greek includes works from the Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods, as defined according to artistic style, not by political units such as governments or dynasties. Etruscan art is typically considered as a single cultural unit even though Etruria was composed of separate city-states. Roman art includes works from the republican, early imperial, late imperial, and late antique periods, as defined using governmental structures and dynasties rather than stylistic characteristics.

Greek Archaic Period:

Greek Classical Period:

Greek Hellenistic Period:

        • #37. Winged Victory of Samothrace. Hellenistic Greek. c. 190 BCE. Marble.
        • #38. Great Altar of Zeus and Athena at Pergamon. Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). Hellenistic Greek. c. 175 BCE. Marble (architecture and sculpture).
        • #41. Seated boxer. Hellenistic Greek. c. 100 BCE. Bronze.

Etruscan Art:

Roman Republican:

        • #40. Alexander Mosaic from the House of Faun, Pompeii Republican Roman. c. 100 BCE. Mosaic.
        • #42. Head of a Roman patrician. Republican Roman. c. 75–50 BCE. Marble.

Roman Imperial:

        • #39. House of the Vettii. Pompeii, Italy. Imperial Roman. c. second century BCE; rebuilt c. 62–79 CE. Cut stone and fresco.
        • #45. Forum of Trajan. Rome, Italy. Apollodorus of Damascus. Forum and markets: 106–112 CE; column completed 113 CE. Brick and concrete (architecture); marble (column).
        • #44. Colosseum (Flavian Amphitheater). Rome, Italy. Imperial Roman. 70–80 CE. Stone and concrete.
        • #46. Pantheon. Imperial Roman. 118–125 CE. Concrete with stone facing.

Roman Late Antique:

        • #47. Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus. Late Imperial Roman. c. 250 CE. Marble.

Essential Knowledge: The Greek, Etruscan, and Roman cultures shared a rich tradition of epic storytelling (first orally transmitted, later written) that glorified the exploits of gods, goddesses, and heroes. The texts recorded a highly developed rhetorical tradition that prized public oratory and poetry. Religious rituals and prognostications were guided by oral tradition, not texts.

Essential Knowledge: Ancient Greek religious and civic architecture and figural representation are characterized by idealized proportions and spatial relationships, expressing societal values of harmony and order.

Greek Ideal Proportions:

Enduring Understanding: Art and art making take many different forms both within and across cultures, and the materials, processes, and techniques employed may also vary by location and culture with wide-ranging influence on the art that is generated.

Learning Objective: Explain how materials, processes, and techniques affect art and art making.

Essential Knowledge: Artists created fully developed, formal types, including sculptures of human figures interacting with gods and stylistic conventions representing the human form with a combined profile and three-quarter view. In these combinations, important figures are set apart using a hierarchical scale or by dividing the compositions into horizontal sections or registers, which provide significant early examples of historical narratives.

Humans and Gods:

Combined Profile & Three-Quarter View:

Hierarchical Scale & Narrative:

Essential Knowledge: The Egyptian architectural construction of the clerestory is particularly important for the history of architecture. Development of monumental stone architecture culminated with the pyramids and with innovative designs for rock-cut tombs and pylon (massive sloped gateway) temples, each demonstrating the importance of the pharaoh—a god-king with absolute power, descended directly from the sun god.

Egyptian Monumental Architecture:

Essential Knowledge: Art from the Etruscan and Roman periods is typified by stylistic and iconographical eclecticism and portraiture. Roman architecture is also characterized by borrowing from its immediate predecessors (Greek and Etruscan) and by technical innovation.

Suggested Works:

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