Summary Of Roman And Medieval Art
( Originally Published 1893 )
According to the points of view laid down in this entire account of the Roman art, we may repeat and emphasize the following
(a) A certain general deterioration of taste and style is visible as early as the second century A.D., although the Roman architecture was less visibly affected than other arts by this movement. This deterioration is most apparent in the provincial territories and reacted on the original and native centers. It became more visibly apparent in the third century, which was the last, in general, of a distinctly antique art; although the survival of antique traits and style continued in Christian art long after this time.
(b) The decline and decadence of the antique art resulted partly from its wide diffusion over territories to which it was not originally native and from its transfer to populations which took and used it at secondhand. Partly, and very especially, it resulted from the spirit and influences of the Christian religion and its antagonism to the subjects and ideals of pagan art—for any attack on the basis and foundations of an art necessarily results in sapping its technical powers—practice and patronage being the necessary conditions of perfection. The decline of taste was again partly caused by the rise of the lower orders of society, who were especially attached to the Christian faith, and by the overthrow in power and influence of the higher classes, which had remained attached to paganism. The decadence of art was again caused by the influences of exterior barbarism, which in the declining physical and moral forces of the empire became its military prop and material support.
(c) Roman art had originally the same general qualities and perfections, wherever found ; within the boundaries established by the ocean, by the Irish Channel, the highlands of Scotland, the Rhine, Danube, the Black Sea, and by the Syrian, Arabian, and African deserts. Throughout this area it represented the civilization of the peoples of the given countries at a given time, and essentially it did not represent the importation or intrusion of objects due to military conquest and foreign colonization or the erection of buildings by foreign and oppressive rulers. The "Romans " of the given time were all the freemen of all these countries.
(d) The two factors of Roman art and Roman civilization were originally the technical and industrial arts of the Oriental world as molded and transformed by Phenician or Etruscan and Greek style and influences, and secondly the Greek civilization itself, as independently developed in all the territories east of Italy which subsequently became provinces of the empire, and which remained in civilization after that political change as they had been before.
(e) Among the countries of the Western Mediterranean, North Africa, Spain, and Southern France had experienced foreign civilizing influences through Phenicians or Greeks, or both, before the Roman power was established in them. The countries most distinctly colonized and civilized by the native Romans alone, after the time of Roman imperial power began, were Northern France, England, Southern and Western Germany, and Hungary.
(f) Roman art or civilization was that of the Italians at large who adopted the Latin language and became "Romans."
It follows from these points that the ruins and works of art of the city of Rome and of the Italian territory are representative for many other countries where the destruction of the monuments has been more complete. The ruins and remains of other countries are to be regarded conversely not so much as survivals of the individual objects and buildings themselves as indications of an entire and universal civilization for the given area. We have seen that the most perfect picture of the old Roman world as regards the ruins of buildings, is found today in the remote fringe of territory bordering on the Syrian desert, for the simple reason that here only the ruins have not been treated as quarries in later times. It will also be observed that we owe to the chance destruction of two individual towns by volcanic eruptions almost all the knowledge that we possess of the domestic life of entire centuries and of many different nations.