Arch of Titus
Date ca. 91 CE (arch) ca. 81 CE (bay reliefs)
The Arch of Titus is the oldest known free-standing arch from the Roman Empire, though many more were erected throughout the Empire’s history. Free standing arches were built to commemorate a specific triumph or person, and placed at the entrance of a public space so as to convey a specific message as visitors stepped across the space’s threshold. As Titus is described as a god on one of the reliefs, this Arch likely commemorates his divinization. The bulk of the reliefs were placed within the arch’s bay.
Found within the arch’s bay, one relief depicts Titus’ army carrying off the spoils of the Second Temple of Jerusalem after having destroyed it. This work marks an important turn in the way in which sculptors depicted spatial relations: the soldiers closest to the viewer are displayed in deep relief, while those furthest appear to float and fade into the background with significantly shallower relief; the arch through which they pass recedes into the background; the soldiers at the center of the procession bulge out toward the viewer, making him feel a part of the action; the procession cuts off at either side, implying its continuation beyond the viewer’s perspective.
The procession continues upon the opposite relief. The horses turn in profile while Titus peers straight ahead at a bend in the procession, again lending the viewer a glimpse of all that is happening and a feeling that they are a part of the scene. A persona of Victory crowns Titus, while others (Honor and Virtue, or Roma) look on approvingly.