A Tour of Five Eras

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The best representatives of Greek and Roman culture for the Greco-Roman room of the museum are Funerary Crater and Emperor Caracalla, respectively. Funerary Crater, a terra cotta amphora created by an unknown artist in the eighth century BC, is decorated with black-figure images, mainly depicting mythological symbols and scenes (Benton and DiYanni, 2014, p. 38). This fits well with the Greek culture, which was totally permeated by mythological ideas; a vase such as this one would have been used in burial, since images of the afterlife augmented the aura of Greek funerals (Spivey, 1997, p.

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On the other hand, the Roman Empire was marked by political leaders with personalities as intense as the Greek gods’. These rulers were especially known for their brutality. The crisp, penetrating facial expression on the marble sculpture Emperor Caracalla, created by an unknown sculptor in AD 215, captures the authoritarian political reality that influenced day-to-day life in the Roman Empire. Taken together, Funerary Crater and Emperor Caracalla showcase objects of utmost Greco-Roman reverence and respect.

The Early Christian room transitions from the authoritarian figures of Greco-Roman art to the true King, Jesus Christ, to whom “all authority in heaven and on earth” belong (Matthew 28:18). The Good Shepherd, a mosaic created by Meister des Mausoleums der Galla Placidia in the fifth century, emphasizes His regal sovereignty, depicting Him with a royal purple sash and golden cross (Stokstad, 2004). Such messages of Jesus’ authority were precious to the early church because of the heavy persecution they faced (Benton and DiYanni, 2014, p. 86). If Jesus was truly God’s Son, then His promises were reliable, particularly the promise that He would raise up His believers from the dead (Jn. 6:40; Jn. 11:25,26).

The promise of resurrection receives special attention in Jonah and the Whale, a sarcophagus relief, created by an unknown artist in the third century around the theme of Matthew 12:40. This theme is reinforced by miniature scenes of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in the upper-left corner and the depiction of the road to Emmaus in the center (Jonah, n.d.). These two pieces are good reminders for Christians to look forward to the soon return of Jesus, the authoritative King of kings and Lord of lords who will raise them from the dead too (Rev. 19:11-16; Rev. 20:4).

The first piece in the Gothic room depicts a vivid, highly supernatural account from the Bible using tempera colors, gold leaf, color washes, pen, and ink (Dragon Pursues, n.d.). Created by an unknown artist in AD 1260, The Dragon Pursues the Woman Clothed in the Sun Who Receives the Wings of an Eagle is typical of the many striking illuminations that decorated medieval manuscripts (Gothic Grandeur, 2012). Illuminations in general express the medieval respect for the written word; in the Middle Ages, anything worth writing down was truth, perhaps being associated with authoritative medieval written charters (Harvey, 2000, p. 52).

As a result, extrabiblical views permeated society alongside the biblical ones. For example, many people from this time period greatly venerated Mary, as Mary Enthroned With Child demonstrates (Mary Enthroned, n.d.). Painted on poplar wood by an unknown Bohemian artist in AD 1350, this piece symbolically connects Mary to the idealistic Shulamite bride from Song of Solomon, associating Mary with the kingdom of Solomon using two lions (1 Ki. 10:20) and depicting Mary’s complexion as dark (SOS 1:5; Suckale, Weniger & Wendram, 2006, p. 42). This second piece acts as a sober reminder for Christians to only regard the Bible as canon (1 Cor. 4:6; Gal. 2:4).

The Renaissance room features a tempera painting on canvas by Sandro Botticelli from AD 1482, Primavera, and an oil on wood painting created by Leonardo da Vinci in AD 1503 (Benton and DiYanni, 2014, pp. 130-131). As Catholic religious unity dissolved across Europe, the artistic focus began shifting away from Christian and Catholic religious topics. Primavera walks us through a right-to-left allegorical interpretation of spring in terms of Greek gods and goddesses (Benton and DiYanni, 2014, p. 131).

European’s cultural reversion to classical themes was accompanied by an intensified interest in humanistic, secular artwork (Benton and DiYanni, 2014, p. 130). Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, Mona Lisa, was the first portrait ever to depict not only a person but also a personality, ascribing profound significance to a mortal individual (Mona Lisa, 2011). The woman’s captivating smile is the focus of the piece, symbolizing the mysterious happiness of humanity (Mona Lisa, 2011).

As Baroque art tended to be more dramatic, the first piece of artwork in the Baroque room is Gianlorenzo Bernini’s life-sized marble statue, David, created in AD 1623 (Benton and DiYanni, 2014, p. 181). The statue’s focal message is so much the biblical or theological significance of David so much as the suspense of an intense historical moment. David is frozen just before releasing a stone from his sling, leaning forward with his gaze fiercely locked on an implicit target (Benton and DiYanni, 2014, p. 181).

Similar theatrical bent is evident in Rembrandt van Rijn’s Dr. Tulp’s Anatomy Lesson, an oil on canvas painting created in AD 1632, which captures a riveting moment in the middle of an anatomy lesson (Benton and DiYanni, 2014, p. 187). The drama is heightened by the students leaning over the cadaver in anticipation and the dynamic use of light and shadows (Benton and DiYanni, 2014, p. 187). These two pieces convey the Baroque culture’s focus on action and realism as opposed to idealism and spiritual symbolism (Benton and DiYanni, 2014, p. 177).


  1. Benton, J.R., & DiYanni, R. (2014). Handbook for the Humanities. Pearson Education, Inc.
  2. Gothic Grandeur: Manuscript Illumination, 1200-1350. (2012). The J. Paul Getty Museum. Retrieved from http://news.getty.edu/presskits/gothic-grandeur-manuscript-illumination-12001350.htm
  3. Harvey, D. (2000). Continuity, authority and the place of heritage in the Medieval world. Journal of Historical Geography, 26(1). Retrieved from https://ac.els-cdn.com/S0305748899901901/1-s2.0-S0305748899901901-main.pdf?_tid=73a3a1eb-0618-44eb-b001-41dbefbad79d&acdnat=1552531767_385539300b48afb4e51803ad605125b2
  4. Mary Enthroned with the Child (Glatzer Madonna). (n.d.). Google Arts & Culture. Retrieved from https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/mary-enthroned-with-the-child-glatz-madonna/uAEH8VtWAMBbfA
  5. Spivey, N. J. (1997). Greek art. London: Phaidon Press.
  6. Stokstad, M. (2007). Art in the Christian Tradition: Christ the Good Shepherd. Jean and Alexander Heard Divinity Library. Retrieved from http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=51106
  7. Stokstad, M. (2007). Art in the Christian Tradition: Christ the Good Shepherd. Jean and Alexander Heard Divinity Library. Retrieved from http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=51106
  8. The Dragon Pursues the Woman Clothed in the Sun Who Receives the Wings of an Eagle. (n.d.). The J. Paul Getty Museum. Retrieved from http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/3077/unknown-maker-the-dragon-pursues-the-woman-clothed-in-the-sun-who-receives-the-wings-of-an-eagle-english-about-1255-1260/
  9. The Mona Lisa – By Leonardo da Vinci. (2011). Leonardo da Vinci. Retrieved from https://www.leonardodavinci.net/the-mona-lisa.jsp
  10. The Jonah Sarcophagus. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.christianiconography.info/sicily/sarcophagusJonah.html
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A Tour of Five Eras. (2019, Aug 14). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/a-tour-of-five-eras/