Arch of Constantine

Arch of Constantine

Date 312-15 CE

Movement Roman

Medium Marble

Located at The Roman Forum

Dedicated by the Senate and People of Rome to commemorate Constantine’s tenth anniversary. The artists practiced spolia heavily here—replacing components such as the Dacian Captives and possibly the Great Trajanic Frieze from Trajan’s Forum, tondi from a Hadrianic monument, and perhaps even Aurelian panels from an arch dedicated to Marcus Aurelius; heads of earlier emperors were even recarved to resemble Constantine and his coemperor.

Some scholars, such as Bernard Berenson, believe this practice of spolia to be an indicator of the fall of the Empire, as the more profound artists would have left the capital at this time; others believe it was Constantine’s way of publicly drawing upon the prestige of the great emperors before him, especially considering he was facing a pagan Senate just as he converted to Christianity.

The abstract, Constantinian relief contrasts sharply with the Hadrianic tondi above. Continuing the with the contemporaneous theme, figures are modeled in squat form and linear poses. Constantine is depicted as giving a speech from the rostrum at the Roman Forum, flanked by an audience that face him from either direction and even lean in to hear his every word. Clearly, the message of the work is meant to take precedence over its beauty, perhaps in a form of desperate propaganda of the later Empire, when emperors struggled to maintain a hold of their power.