Extra Credit

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The works chosen for this paper are currently exhibited at the Getty Center. The Engraved Gem Inset into a Hollow Ring (the first century B.C.) is one of the objects from the exhibition titled Remembering Antiquity: The Ancient World Through Medieval Eyes that will be held at the museum until May 2018. The other work of art is Bear Hunt, the mosaic floor panel (the fourth century A.D.). These works of art give much information about the historical and cultural situation in the Roman Empire at the time when they were created. Despite the fact that these works belong to different categories, they reflect social and political tendencies that were widespread in the Roman Empire.

The Engraved Gem Inset into a Hollow Ring was created at the time of relative stability and prosperity of the Roman Empire. This ring is made of gold, and the stone put inside the ring is ruby-red carnelian. It is rather small – 2.2 × 1.3 × 0.3 cm. It has very deep and rich red color that is elegantly combined with the metal surface of gold. Inside the gem, there is the engraving of the head of Alexander the Great, a Macedonian king who managed to create the largest empire at his time. Although he had lived about three centuries before the ring was created, he was still a very popular figure in the Roman Empire, and people were glad to use his image for their purposes. This ring is supposed to be pressed onto various soft surfaces and leave the three-dimensional image of Alexander’s head. The stamp is exhibited next to the ring. Although this object is not medieval, it plays an important role in the exhibition as it shows that continuity was crucial to the Roman Empire. The control over vast territories was always a priority task for the Roman Empire, so people wanted to maintain links to the authority and power of Alexander the Great who conquered so many lands. The person who used this ring aimed to improve his image by creating a connection to one of the most powerful rulers of the past.

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Bear Hunt, the mosaic floor panel, was created about three centuries after the ring. In contrast to the ring whose exact place of creation is unknown, this mosaic was used as a decoration of the house between Bacoli and Pozzuoli, Italy. It is a very large work of art measuring 661 × 869 cm. It is a rectangular-shaped depiction of a bear hunt with three figures of men and several animals. The mosaic floor has not survived completely, and the left edge of the image is missing. Some people on the mosaic can be identified by the names written near them. The man at the bottom of the image is Lucius, and behind him, there is an inscription Minus, but the body of this man is not present at the survived part. Probably the main purpose of this mosaic image was to tell visitors about one of the hobbies of the householder. Another possible aim was to highlight masculinity and bravery of the men depicted on the mosaic as a bear hunt has always been a very dangerous activity. In addition, these qualities might have been especially appreciated in the Roman society at this period because the empire was engaged in many military campaigns during the Constantine dynasty that ruled in the fourth century.

Mosaics were very popular in the Roman Empire, and they were widely used both in private and public buildings for the decoration of walls, floors, and other architectural elements. This mosaic as well as some others that can be seen at the Getty Center are made of small pieces that are colored in various shades of brown, gray, beige, and green. Judging by the size and complexity of the image, it must have taken very much time to accomplish such work; therefore, it is possible to come to the conclusion that this work was not cheap, and the person who commissioned it was rather rich. Moreover, bear hunts were quite an expensive activity as it required hiring many people, so it is one of the factors that prove that such mosaic may reflect the top status of the people portrayed on it. Therefore, by commissioning such a large and beautiful work of art, the patron might have wanted to show his belongingness to the elite. Visual arts have always been used for these purposes, and it can be seen at many different objects created during the period of the Roman Empire. It is one of the main similarities between this mosaic and the ring with the portrait of Alexander the Great that has been described above. In both works, the artists aimed to highlight the high social status of people who commissioned them, but they did it with the help of different artistic methods and techniques.

All things considered, the two works of art analyzed in this paper were created by the same culture – the Roman Empire. These objects belong to different categories – a ring and a mosaic floor panel – but they serve the same purpose of highlighting the social status of patrons who commissioned them. They reflect the main tendencies in the development of the Roman civilization and are valuable sources of information about the values and lifestyles of people who commissioned them.

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