Museum Project Formal Analysis

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ARTH 1001: Museum Formal Analysis Paper
The Tiber Muse

Winged Victory of the Nike of Samothrace

Justinian and Attendants from San Vitale

Adrienne Keiser
TA- Anna, Tuesday Section
April 23rd, 2013

The Tiber Muse, originally discovered in the vicinity of the Tiber River in Rome in 1885, is a product of the Graeco-Roman era and is dated around the 2nd-1st century BCE. This date and other formal qualities of the sculpture such as the pose, drapery and medium suggest that it was produced during the Hellenistic Period of Greece and Asia Minor, and then imported to Rome at a later date. The importation, copying, and public display of Greek art were common from the start of Roman conquering of Greek territories and throughout the Roman Imperial era. The formal qualities of this piece, to be explored later in this exhibition, are comparable to those of the Nike of Samothrace in that they both exhibit the dramatic, elaborate techniques common of the Hellenistic Period (323-30 BCE) that embrace a range of emotions, providing us with an overpowering, multi-sensory experience as we view these pieces. The qualities and purpose of art during the Hellenistic Period were quite different from those of the Byzantine Era, to be further explored by comparing these two sculptures with the Justinian and Attendants mosaic from San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. Through a formal analysis of these three works, the meaning, purpose and values of the culture that produced them will become clear, and we can further understand the historical context of these two very different time periods.

The Hellenistic Period is the time between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE and the emergence of the Roman Imperial Empire. Greek cultural power and influence was at its height, and there was great prosperity and progress with the arts, theatre, literature, music, philosophy, science and architecture. During this period, Greek culture, influence and language was spreading to other parts of the world. This contributed to a wide variety in art, producing complex, individual and idealized works, allowing us to admire them from all angles. Hellenistic art seeks expressability and a forcefulness of details, focusing on the height of the moment by expressing the violence of movements. In great statuary, Hellenistic art explores themes such as suffering, sleep, age, victories, and real, intimate moments frozen in time. The Tiber Muse and the Nike of Samothrace both exhibit these qualities in many ways.

The Tiber Muse is about four feet high and constructed out of marble. The pose and arm positioning of the subject suggests it is a sculpture of a muse caught in the moment of playing an instrument. Even though she is missing her head, most of her arms and feet/base, her pose is similar to other known muses. The oval tear (near her right arm) in her garment suggests a rare, iconographic tradition whereby musicians were represented with less restricting clothing on their playing arms. Thus, this tear does not suggest an erotic encounter, but rather a young female bending over a rock, caught in the moment of playing an instrument. This element of sculpture capturing an intimate moment in time is definitely a quality of Hellenistic sculpture. This statue projects into our space, and it is clear one needs to observe it from many different angles to fully understand it. This is very similar to the Nike of Samothrace, even though it is safe to say the Nike statue projects into our space more intensely than the Tiber Muse. This is because the Nike of Samothrace was originally placed on the front of a ship to commemorate a naval victory, and then turned in to an elaborate fountain structure at the head of the Daru staircase in the Louvre in Paris. The Tiber Muse was meant to be a smaller, more intimate piece that demonstrates the moment of a musician playing, whereas the Nike of Samothrace was sculpted to be a larger-than-life symbol of victory and...
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