With all sorts of other details being equally important in Perugino's fresco, including
the two scenes on either side with groupings of seemingly random people in the large
piazza space...., the one that concerns me here is the significance of the Arch itself for a
painter like Perugino, painting the arch into a scene between Jesus and Peter which took
place some 300 years before Constantine would be alive and "convert" to the sign of the
Cross. A simple explanation for this historical extrapolation here of Perugino would
involve 1) the fact, when the fresco was painted for Pope Sixtus IV in the then-new
Chapel, probably the Pope specified to include the Arch; and 2) that the Church, in the
Middle Ages, dating back to the time of Charlemagne, traced back its claim on the
legitimacy of its status as an actual, physical place and as a City State, to when
Constantine, shortly after his triumph over Maxentius, allowed not only for Christians
to worship freely in Rome, but for them to build two basilicas in the City -- that of
Saint John Lateran, and that of St. Peter's on Vatican Hill. The Arch, then, became
visually a sort of imperial seal or imprimatur on the new era ...., made as much of
stonework and marble as it was made of political and even spiritual beliefs.
The Arch of Costantino
watercolor 8" x 9"
|The Arch of Constantine
José Grave de Peralta
|Toroazul Painting and Fine Arts
There's much to learn from this arch, both as a painter and as a student of history, which
the city of Rome inevitably forces one to become. The history angle has all to do with
how this great marble monument, which stands next to the Colosseum, marks in some
ways the end of the antique imperial era and the beginning of the Christian one -- as
Constantine "converts" himself and the empire to the religion of St. Peter and the twelve
apostles, etc., and splits Rome in two: moving a new Rome seat of empire to what is now
Turkey but would then be called Byzantium.
In Rome's Sistine Chapel, I have realized just what this arch signifies in the institution of
the Papacy, thanks to the masterpiece fresco, located under Michelangelo's ceiling, by
Perugino: "Jesus giving St. Peter the Keys of the City." (CLICK here) In that fresco, a sort
of double presence of the arch, on either side of the temple structure in the center, serves to
add symmetry...and meaning to the event portrayed by Perugino.
In July 2010, I painted a first watercolor study
of this Roman monument, one of many
attempts on my part to appreciate this
structure on several levels. (Please CLICK here
to view this image larger. Page One).
The INSCRIPTION on the Arch
To the emperor Flavius Constantine, the
Great, pious and fortunate, the Senate and
People of Rome, because by
divine inspiration and his own great spirit
with his army on both the tyrant and all
his faction at once in rightful battle he
avenged the State, dedicated this arch as a
march of triumph.
The words divine inspiration, inscribed on the top central or "attic" area of
the arch, were Constantine's politically correct way of talking about the sign
of the Christian cross in his day -- when the worship of the Jewish "sect" of
Christianity in the empire, was something illegal. Even nowadays I think it is
politically incorrect for artists to talk not only of this or that belief system or
mythology as a reason behind creativity or design, but even to think about
divine inspiration in artwork is seen as old-fashioned and silly. This silliness
is certainly what accompanies me in these watercolor sessions, as I face my
own "tyrants" and battles.