Why Do Artists Use Greco-Roman Ideals in Their Works of Art?

The term “history repeats itself” usually implys a negative connotation, but that was not the case in European art during the Italian Renaissance and the French Revolution. These were times when Italy and France were attempting to reinvent themselves after numerous centuries of stagnant oppression. During the Renaissance, Italians strived to surpass the intellect of the Greek, while in the French Revolution, Revolutionaries revered and borrowed from the Roman’s strength and unity. Jacques-Louis David and Raffaello Sanzio, better known as Raphael, are prime examples of painters whose art was heavily influenced by Greco-Roman culture and society. This is most evident in Raphael’s The School of Athens(figure 1) and David’s The Oath of the Horatii(figure 2). Artists portrayed Greco-Roman ideals in their works of art to inspire the citizens of their time to be more like the Greeks and Romans in their paintings.

Raphael was an Italian exemplary artist during the High Renaissance of Europe. The High Renaissance was an era, beginning in Italy in the late 15th century until about 1527, that was the reintroduction of classical thought, art, literature and architecture to Medieval Italy. One key purpose of the Renaissance was to study Greek culture and it apply its philosophy to the theories of the time. In this fresco The School of Athens(figure 1) Raphael depicts a Roman architecture influenced hall containing the greatest thinkers of ancient Greece. In the hall the intellectuals are discussing “explaining their various theories and ideas” (Gardner 653). These thinkers include both philosophers, who are men who “concerned with the ultimate mysteries that transcend the this world”, and scientists who are “concerned with nature and human affairs”(Gardner 653-654). The hall holds philosophers of

every sort conversing their various beliefs. Raphael was attempting to inspire those who visited the public Stanza Della Signatura into studying the theories of these momentous men(and woman). The Greeks valued the quest
for knowledge and to answer all the the world’s questions, to even answer one was the ideal(Gardner 652). Attempting to reflect this in his art, Raphael created all the philosophers of Greece there simultaneously, even though they existed at different times. The artist, Raphael, did this to tell the viewer that all the knowledge of these geniuses was at there disposal as if they present ; through copies of their written works and records(some of which were in the library). Raphael used Greco- Roman ideals in his art to inspire the viewer to be more like those esteemed in his paintings.

Jacques-Louis David was a French Pro-Revolutionary propagandist during the late eighteenth century. He used the Greco-Roman virtue of loyalty to inspire civil and political devotion for the concurrent French Revolution. This is evident in his painting Oath of the Horatii(figure 2) which depicts three brothers promising to battle and “win or die for Rome” (Gardner 852). Their oath reflects the Greco-Roman virtue of “loyalty to commander and patria” (Kendrick). The Horatius brothers are paragons of steadfast loyalty because of their decision to place their country befpre their family and themselves. In David’s painting, three arches in the background divide the scene into sections (Zucker). The brothers stand on the very left, while the women are sitting on the far right. Near enough to be seen by the warrior, the women are forgotten as the men only look at their three swords held by their father. The swords are being held directly in the center of the painting , and therefore separating the wives from their husbands, representing Rome Itself (Chapman). The men ignore the lamenting women and the father, who is not going to fight, ignores the pain in his left hand as he holds the seemingly sharp blades. Rome is more important than these “trivial” grievances for what they believed was more important. David wanted the viewers of this painting to also see their country, France, as the most crucial thing in their lives. The sunlight in the painting, shining on them , illuminates the muscles in

their arms and legs as the brothers stand up vigorously and rigidly; clad in their armor, they are eager to fight. This emphasizes their masculinity and portrays them as powerful heroes (Zucker).Although this painting was
exhibited in 1785, four years prior to French Revolution, it already began to inspire allegiance to the imminent revolt, (Zucker). The commoners who came to view the painting grew stronger in their convictions and loyalty to the Revolution because it had kindled “patriotic zeal” (Gardner 852). This was David’s goal he successfully achieved, to inspire the French bourgeoisie and peasants to rise to action and support their country in its time of crisis and inevitable change.

Artists used Greco-Roman ideals in the art because indubitably the Greek and Roman civilizations flourished for certain reasons. They had many attributes that made them extremely prosperous and these two artists, Raphael and David, chose to portray some of those aspects in their artwork in order for the people viewing it would be influenced to follow in their metaphorical footsteps; to excite the viewer to action. The artists wanted to emanate the virtues they saw in Greco-Roman civilization and make them a apart of the respected socieies they were attempting to modify. The art was put into/made in places, in which the artists were certain they would be seen by the people. In both the library of Pope Julius II in the Vatican City and the Louvre in France, the artworks were allowed to be viewed by the public. Meaning that anyone could see these works, from Popes to peasants. They were their to enact change and to, overall, make people more classical, because that is what they needed at the time.


Raphael. The School of Athens.(figure 1): c. 1509. fresco. Stanza della Signatura, Palazzi Pontifici Vatican, 500 cm x 700 cm (200” x 300”)

Jacques Louis David. Oath of the Horatii ?(Figure 2). Rome, Italy. 1784. Oil on Canvas. 10′ 10″ x 13′ 11″”.?

Works Cited

Chapman, Hugo. Raphael: From Urbino to Rome. London: National Gallery
Company Ltd., 2004. Print. Gardner, Helen. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages. 11th ed. Orland, Florida: Harcourt Inc., 2001. Print Stokstad. Marilyn. Arthistory 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey; Pearson Education Inc., 2003. print “Jacques-Louis David: The Oath of the Horatii.” Bc.edu. Boston, Massachusetts: Boston College, n.d.

Web. 2 May 2012.

Kendrick, M. Gregory. The Heroic Ideal: Western Archetypes from the Greeks to the Present. North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2010. Print.

Zucker, Steven, and Beth Harris. “David’s Oath of the Horatii.” Smarthistory.khanacademy.org. Khanacademy.org, n.d. Web. 6 May 2012.

Articles About Digital Art: Summary

Summary of Art Form For The Digital Age by Henry Jenkins

In the article “Art Form For The Digital Age,” by Henry Jenkins, Jenkins elaborates on the ever expanding video game industry and cites that it is now being considered a digital art. The gaming industry is also said to be the form of art in today’s economy that has grown the most. The gaming industry has progressed the most in the past century, starting with silent ping-pong games and evolving into intense story plot and battle games liken to Final Fantasy. Games are becoming more and more realistic, characters can talk, blink, jump, wave and move individual body parts, mimicking human behavior. Parental advisory ratings are an incredibly large part of the industry. In this new age of video games, players can blow up enemies and viscerally rip them apart. They have become so realistic that it is surmised that some children have difficulties differentiating video from reality and act out mirroring the game characters behavior. It is obvious that the gaming world isn’t promoting youth violence; rather show the artistic view point of what the creator’s vision is.

Also, online play allows you to have opponents who are not only not in the same room with you; they can be across the globe. It is essentially like a chat room where players can view other player’s stats and choose who to play, creating a more intense and challenging game. More and more young adults seeking careers and degrees in graphic design are leaning toward the gaming industry rather than the film industry. Gaming is as big now as cinemas were when they were first introduced to the public. Now, you can stay home and play games rather than go out. There are so many types of games that you can virtually do anything you want to. Due to the endless possibilities the gaming industry will continue to grow as a respected digital art.

Jenkins, Henry. “Art Form For the Digital Age.” Technology Review Sept. 2000: n. pag. Print.

Summary of Do Video Games Kill by Karen Stemheimer

In the commentary, “Do Video Games Kill”, Karen Sternheimer brings to light an interesting and incredibly controversial subject; are video games to blame for youth gun violence? She maintains that due to many biased opinions; political, religious and advocacy groups, the media have failed to provide ample information to the public resulting in the inability to form an educated opinion, in turn causing a mass hysteria resulting in tougher security guidelines in schools, stricter juvenile laws and far less personal and parental responsibility. An incredibly popular first person shooter video game, Doom, is ripe with gratuitous violence. So much so that it has been blamed for several mass shootings, perpetrated by middle-class, white, young-adult males. The media, politicians, advocacy groups as well as the FBI are steadfast in claiming that the only rational explanation is that of the individuals falling prey to the aggression inciting video game. In short, the violent video game made them do it. One might be reminded of the Salem Witch Trials, where no educated explanation can be derived, those which cannot defend themselves, no matter how far-fetched the reasoning, is the obvious answer.

Religious and political dogma has run rampant. The media have created unnecessary fear and moral panic to legitimize their personal agendas under the guise of “protecting children”. More often than not, alternate explanations are not even taken into consideration. Depression, poverty, ignorance, self deprecation, bullying, violent home life are seldom cited and when cited are not explored in depth. The justice system in nearly every state has revised its juvenile justice laws to increase their penalties in many ways; however, the Supreme Court deemed juvenile executions unconstitutional, which in turn created even more fodder for the paranoid masses. In summation, the author goads the reader to delve more into the alternative explanations in hopes that by increasing the masses education, the masses will be less apt to point the proverbial finger at the video games and look more toward the socioeconomic and psychological reasoning behind the individual’s violent behavior.

Sternheimer, Karen. “Do Video Games Kill.” The Journal of American Sociological Association Winter Contexts (2007): n. pag. Print.

Summary of In Defense of Hip-Hop by Cathleen Rountree

In the article “In Defense of Hip Hop”, Cathleen Rountree details the nation’s growing innate disrespect for the musical genre of Hip Hop and illustrates a way to understand, respect and even advocate for the genre. She further argues that uneducated masses immediately condemn the art form ignorantly without fully understanding it, and furthermore, are unwilling to attempt to understand it. According to numerous sources, Hip Hop has been attributed to ignorance, crime, incarceration, disrespect and has created negative monikers reinforcing the negative connotations and stereotypes associated with the oft misunderstood art form. Lyricists have been shunned and ostracized by the nation and targeted with blame for the derogatory actions of pop-culture today. Upon further investigation, hip hop has now been linked to positive media projects such as films and collaborative albums featuring individuals from many different backgrounds who have used hip hop as a means of expressing their hardships and misadventures.

Liken to the beatniks of the fifties, the artists merely attempt to satiate their want for personal development and self discovery rather than incite violence. The author concludes that through becoming more educated on the artist’s personal journey and actually listening to or reading and comprehending the lyrics, one is able to find the art to be poetic, cathartic and even inspiring. In doing so, the reader is able to positively redefine their personal opinion of the genre by delving into the back stories behind the songs and note the courage necessary to write such personal and sometimes endearing phraseology.

Rountree, Cathleen. “In Defense of Hip Hop.” Santa Cruz Sentinel 19 May 2007: n. pag. Print.