The Arch of Costantino
  detail from battle relief  from east side
watercolor  8" x 9"
The Arch of Constantine
                              The Arch of Costantino
watercolor  8" x 9"
Click here to see another version of Arch)
José Grave de Peralta
Toroazul Painting and Fine Arts
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Details from Arch : Dacian
captives from Trajan's time
and marble reliefs from time
of Marcus Aurelius
9 " x  12 "
                             The Arch of Costantino
          detail of battle relief from west side
watercolor  8" x 9"
Near Rome's Colosseum stands the triumphal arch raised on that spot by Emperor
Constantine in the 4th century A.D. to commemorate his victory over opponent
Maxentius. One of the most exceptional details of this memorial is a short phrase that
appears on the large inscription above the central archway. In latin, and in glorious
Roman font, we can still read today that at that time the emperor conquered the tyrant
and his faction,
quod instinctu divinitatis magnitudine cum exercitu suo. The phrase
means "
by inspiration of the divinity and by the greatness of his own spirit."  (Of
course, many of us may be familiar with the legend of Constantine's famous dream,
wherein a vision of the Cross and a voiceover of how he would defeat Maxentius if he
fought under its standard....  Miraculously, says the legend, Constantine won the battle
the next day, Cross and all!
But to go back to the phrase of the monument:  perhaps it was some sort of politically
correct way of
not attributing victory to Christ's cross per se. After all, in those days,
Christian worship was forbidden in the Empire. However,
what if ... the Latin phrase
simply ascribed victory to the same, ageless, divine inspiration that through Roman
history had guided heroes like Romulus, Trajan, and Pompey, to their own triumphs?  
The Arch of Constantine, in fact, is precisely such a juxtaposition of historical
precedents. It is a collage of marble reliefs, columns, and statuary from previous
Roman monuments! Many art and architecture historians scoff at how the emperor,
in his day, had to recycle older structures due to the scarcity of quality craftsmen
and materials in the empire. But how about considering the albeit scarcity of such
important factors and the truth of Constantine's essential making a collage of sorts
both as his memorial and as his way of saying that the
instinctu divinitatis that
had won him his day was in itself as new and as old as Rome itself -- literally a
building upon history?
The captives
The Dacian or Rumanian captives --- wearing Phrygian hats -- are my own favorite
pieces of "recycled" statuary on the Arch. These figures actually are references to
Constantine's predecessor, Trajan, who in the early 100s A.D. waged war north of
the Danube and extended the empire to what is now Rumania. Trajan's Dacian
captives are emblematic of this other emperor's reign, and they appear in both his
great Column near Piazza Venezia and in many other historical sites of Rome.   
One of the first days I began sketching the Arch of Constantine, during an evening
walk near the monument with a dear Belgian friend, she remarked on the beauty of
the prisoners and on the "fact" that they would have probably been put to death by
Trajan himself the day after they posed for the artist who sculpted their forms for
all time. "They are simply too beautiful, Jose," she lamented.
Anne's almost naive juxtaposition of sentiment and history, however, made me
stop and look harder at these particular 'moments" of the Arch. Suddenly,
something about the prisoners' broad shoulders struck me -- what a gesture of
humility ! Their scruffy beards and large, bound hands; their caps; and those
pilgrim capes...! I realized how such figures were more than ornament to the
architecture. Like the Roman font inscription about the emperor's own divine
instinct, they make the architecture of the Arch speak .   
See more Arch of
Constantine details!
CLICK on any of these other
pages of the series about the
Arch Costantino in Rome
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