The spatial qualities of the Ara Pacis reliefs reached their most
complete development in the two large narrative panels on the triumphal
arch erected in 81 À.D. to commemorate the victories of the emperor
Titus. One of them (fig. 275) shows part of the triumphal
procession celebrating the conquest of Jerusalem. The booty displayed
includes the seven-branched candlestick and other sacred objects. The
movement of a crowd of figures in depth is conveyed with striking
success, despite the mutilated surface. On the right, the procession
turns away from us and disappears through a triumphal arch placed
obliquely to the background plane so that only the nearer half actually
emerges from the background—a radical but effective device.
The companion panel (fig. 276) avoids such experiments, although
the number of layers of relief is equally great here. We also sense that
its design has an oddly static quality, despite the fact that this is
simply another part of the same procession. The difference must be due
to the subject, which shows the
emperor himself in his chariot, crowned by the winged Victory behind
him. Apparently the sculptor's first concern was to display this set
image, rather than to keep the procession moving. Once we try to read
the Imperial chariot and the surrounding figures in terms of real space,
we become aware of how strangely contradictory the spatial relationships
are. Four horses, shown in strict profile view, move in a direction
parallel to the bottom edge of the panel, but the chariot is not where
it ought to be if they were really pulling it. Moreover, the bodies of
the emperor and of most of the other figures are represented in frontal
view, rather than in profile. These seem to be fixed conventions for
representing the triumphant emperor which our artist felt constrained to
respect, though they were in conflict with the desire to create the kind
of consistent movement in space achieved so well in figure 275.
Arch of Titus.
Arch of Titus. Spoils from the
Temple in Jerusalem
Spoils from the Temple in Jerusalem. Relief in passageway. Arch of Titus, Rome. 81
A.D. Marble, height 7'10"
Arch of Titus. Triumph of
Triumph of Titus. Relief in passageway, Arch of Titus
Arch of Titus. Painting by Canaletto.
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