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Sophie Page

Astrology is the art of predicting events on earth as well as human character and disposition from the movements of the planets and fixed stars. Medieval astrology encompassed both general concepts of celestial influence, and the technical art of making predictions with horoscopes, symbolic maps of the heavens at particular moments and places constructed from astronomical information. The scientific foundations of the art were developed in ancient Greece, largely lost in early medieval Europe and recovered by the Latin West from Arabic sources in the 12th and 13th centuries. Late medieval astrological images were successfully Christianized and were adapted to particular contexts, acquired local meanings and changed over time.

Astrology developed into a scientific branch of learning in ancient Greece, but because of the opposition of the Church Fathers it was transmitted to early medieval Europe in only fragmentary form in technically unsophisticated textbooks and popular divinatory genres. Literary and scientific texts provided more general ideas about the nature and attributes of the planets which were influential on later iconography. The first significant astrological images appear in 11th-century illustrated astronomical texts (e.g. London, BL, Cotton MS. Tiberius BV), which were acquired and produced by monasteries to aid with time-keeping and the construction of the Christian calendar....


Charles Murray

[Flavius Valerius Constantinus]

(b Naïssus [now Nish, Serbia], c. ad 285; reg 306–37; d Constantinople, 337).

Roman emperor and patron. He was the son of Constantius Chlorus (reg 293–306) and Helena (c. 248/9–328/9) and succeeded his father as Co-Emperor in ad 306. Six years later he defeated his rival Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge outside Rome and became sole ruler in the West. In 313, with Licinius (reg 307–24), the Eastern Emperor, he published the Edict of Milan, which openly favoured Christianity. He defeated Licinius at the Battle of Chrysopolis in 324 and united the Empire under his control. Artistic and literary sources during his reign show an imperial policy dominated by the newly authorized religion, and new artistic values gradually transformed public art into a more fully recognizable Christian form. He believed that his military successes were attributable to the Christian God, whose sign of the Cross had appeared to him, superimposed on the sun, at the Milvian Bridge. In the final battle he ordered the monogram of Christ to be painted on his soldiers’ shields, thus establishing the cross and the chi-rho in later iconography. His victory was commemorated in 315 with the construction of a triumphal arch in the Roman Forum....


L. James

(b Constantinople, c. ad 388 or 393; d Rome, 450).

Late Roman empress and patron. She was the daughter of Theodosius I the Great and half-sister to the Emperor Honorius (reg 395–425). She was brought up in Constantinople and Rome, from where she was taken hostage by the Visigoths during the sack of 410, and was married to their leader Athaulf in 414. On his death the following year, she was returned to her own people and in 417 reluctantly married her brother’s Master of Armies, who was to become Constantius III (reg 421). After quarrelling with Honorius, she fled to Constantinople, but on his death her son Valentinian III (reg 425–55) was installed as Emperor in the West by the eastern armies. At first her influence was dominant, but she was unable to stop the increasing power of Aetius (c. 391–454), and by 438 she had been forced into virtual retirement.

Placidia’s building works reflect the piety she apparently gained while in exile in Constantinople. In Rome she commissioned the mosaics in S Paolo fuori le mura, of which only one piece survives, though much restored, above the triumphal arch. Her preference, however, was for the new court city at Ravenna, which she adorned with several ecclesiastical buildings. One building to have survived intact is the so-called Mausoleum of Galla Placidia (...


Barbara Zeitler

(elected 432; d Rome, Aug 19, 440).

Pope and patron. His building programme formed part of a wider campaign to identify the papacy with St Peter and the Church with Rome and its Classical tradition. This identification is best represented by the basilical church of S Maria Maggiore (see Rome, §V, 20), which was completed during Sixtus’s reign. It was endowed with many precious furnishings, and its mosaics form the earliest surviving large-scale cycle of biblical scenes in Rome. The revival of Classical styles is also evident in Sixtus’s partial remodelling of the Lateran Baptistery (see Rome, §V, 15(iii)), which emulated the 4th-century church of S Constanza (see Rome, §V, 18) and was lavishly decorated with porphyry and marble revetment and with inlay work.

R. Krautheimer: ‘The Architecture of Sixtus III: A Fifth-century Renaissance?’, Essays in Honor of E. Panofsky, ed. M. Meiss (New York, 1961), pp. 291–302 G. Matthiae: Pittura romana del medioevo...


S. J. B. Barnish

[the Great]

(b Cauca [now Coca], Spain, c. ad 346; reg 379–95; d Milan, Jan 17, 395).

Roman emperor and patron. His father, Count Theodosios, was executed in 376 under Valens (reg 364–78), but in 379 Gratian (reg 367–83) proclaimed Theodosios emperor of the eastern empire. In a series of campaigns he contained the invading Goths and crushed two rivals in the west: Magnus Maximus (reg 383–8) and Eugenius (reg 392–4), who was supported by leading pagans in the Roman aristocracy. He was a devout Nicene Christian and persecutor of heretics and was much influenced by St Ambrose of Milan (c. 339–97), who forced him to do penance for his massacre of between 7000 and 15,000 people in the Hippodrome at Thessaloniki in 390. He abolished sacrifices and confirmed the disendowment of pagan cults but gave some legal protection to statues and temples as works of art. In 384–8, however, he permitted his fanatical minister Cynegius to tour the eastern provinces destroying temples. The empire was by then becoming firmly Christian, and the resulting flowering of Christian literature, art and architecture is known as the Theodosian Renaissance. At Rome he and his co-emperors began the construction of ...