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Classical and Medieval Art

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The classical art

The classical period (3000 B.C. - A.D.500) was mostly predetermined by the role of art in the ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. This art comes from the mythology and takes the themes and plots from it, as well. Afterwards, it turns into an independent field of culture, designed to meet the aesthetic needs. Not only physical beauty, but also ethical thoughts and deeds were described in the ancient art (Ling, 2000).

The canon existence was caused by the harmony as the ordering, based on the mathematical calculations. The human body was a subject of a geometric study. As a result, the rules of proportions were established. For instance, the statues of Policlet embody the ancient ideals of beauty, restraint, strength and self-esteem.

Greek literature is characterized by the oral technique that was the key to the mass character and prevalence. Poetry and music were an integral part of the educated free citizen. They penetrated into all spheres of the personal and social life and did not belong only to a particular group of people.

The research has shown that the origins of the ancient theater were connected with myth and ritual (Pollitt, 1972). The unrestricted transition from the mythological stories to poetry contributed to the mass character of Greek drama. Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes and other prominent playwrights were as much popular as the wise rulers or the winners of the Olympic Games.

Plasticity and physicality were the main features of classical art. The social significance and immense popularity of the sculpture was explained by the aesthetic principle of proportionality. Hegel considered sculpture to be the dominant art of the antiquity.

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The medieval art

The ideas of cynicism were close to the tenets of Christianity in the medieval art (A.D.500 – A.D.1400). Though, the classical culture was displaced rather by a new wave of Christian religious culture than the Cynics. The barbaric conquest of the Roman Empire in the V century contributed to the decline of ancient culture. The narrow-minded outlook of Western Europeans was caused by the violation of trade, economic and political ties (Camille, 1992). The deep crisis of late antique society made the Christianity stronger than before. As a consequence, it became the state religion and considerably influenced the ideology of society.

People were educated through the religious ascetic outlook. The body took the central place in the medieval system, but not the physical one as in the antiquity. The church was the mystical body of Christ, while the state stood as the body with a monarchical head. The human body was observed as a prison of the soul, which had to be unfettered for supreme bliss.

The influence of the church defined the image of medieval art in Western Europe. The monuments of church architecture are the main illustrations of it. A majestic line of Gothic cathedrals became a symbol of aspiration for God. Iconography was the main genre of painting. The icons were the means of emotional connection with God for the illiterate masses. In addition to the icons, the wall paintings and mosaics were also widespread. A favorite motif of medieval art was the fight for the human soul between the angels and the devil (Tierney, 1992).

The popularization of Christian religion leads to the emergence of mass genre books. While the church literature was popular among the laity, the secular works caused a strong interest of clerics. A number of well-known epic works, including the famous knightly epic The Song of the Nibelungs, was written at that time. Although, the medieval romance was more likely to be relied on the popular fairy tales, it marked the beginning of the transition to conscious fiction and individual creativity that had found its golden age in the Renaissance. The mass character of art is the significant feature of that period.

In contrast to the classical art as the symbol of physicality, the medieval model was focused on the immortal soul and preaches contempt for the body. The temples of the classical period were primarily the places of statues and treasures. The Greeks did not pray inside the temple, only in front of it. The aesthetic and semantic features of the Christian church are transferred into its inner space. It should be mentioned that the structure of European medieval society was more complex than the structure of the classical polis.

Nevertheless, the classical and medieval periods are characterized by such common traits as the collectivity and the dominance of traditional type with its focus on general rather than individual. In the ancient period, the improviser-authors were replaced by the rhapsodies, who only repeated the texts of others (Ling, 2000). This distribution can be also seen in the Middle Ages, when the texts were created by the trover singers; only the singers-jugglers performed them.

The statue Venus Bathing is the perfect illustration of the classical period. Her nude body is stamped in motion. The face is calm, without any emotions. The scene of bathing depicts the routine task. On the other hand, the Cimabue’s icon Madonna and Child shows the religious subject of the medieval art. The figures are fully clothed. Nevertheless, the faces are also impassive. When comparing these two pieces of art, Venus is depicted in a more realistic sense due to the humanism, while Madonna has the religious background of Christianity. However, the tradition of God’s reproduction was continued in the next art period.


In conclusion, every epoch has its own understanding of art. The progressive role of classical art consists in disclosure of human physical and spiritual beauty by the artistically perfect image, reflection of the main social challenges, contradictions and the overall socio-educative role. Medieval art is extremely peculiar and controversial, but the brilliant Renaissance culture was grown from its depths. Thus, the art of the Middle Ages accumulated the spiritual experience of the previous generations and raised the question of interaction between man and God in the search for the new forms of human reality.

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