CONSTANTINO el Grande y su madre Santa Helena
La visión de Constantino
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On the Censorship and banishment of Great Stories from the public realm. MORE THAN A CHANGE OF VISION.
Forget David slaying Goliath; Aeneas landing in Italy with his son Iulius by his side and his father Anchises on his shoulders; forget the Rape of Persephone.
The tradition of using sculptures to engage attention and tell ennobling stories in public urban space went out the windows designed by Courvoisier, Van der Rohe, and other modernist architects at the dawn of the XX Century. But for me the time spent in Rome sketching structures like Constantine the Great's Arch (4th century A.D.) marked an awakening and a strengthening of ideas I brought from St. John's College's Great Books Program, the University of Delaware master's studies in Spanish Literature, and from my teaching years at the SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE of the University of Miami.
The Arch of Costantino: Battle of the Milvian Bridge (312 A.D.)
detail of battle relief from west side
3.5" x 12"
pen & ink
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 Christian Cross and a "voiceover of Saints Peter and Paul" of how he would defeat Maxentius, a tyrant who had taken the city of Rome, if the August Constantine would permit soldiers who wished to do so to carry the Christian symbol as their standard....) Miraculously, says the tradition, Constantine won the battle the next day, Cross and all!
The Arch of Costantino
detail of battle relief from west side
8" x 9"
The idea of the Arc
The Arch of Constantine again challenges me to draw and think while I draw. . . .
On the day I studied this part above the middle ARC of the monument, on the south
side, away from the Colosseum, I had also been reading in my biography of this
Roman emperor (by Eberhard Horst), how certain events in Constantine's life are
more in the realm of legend and poetry than they are in that of historical fact.
According to legend, for instance, his supposed conversion to Christianity resulted
from either a DREAM where he was told to wage battle against Maxentius carrying
the Christian cross as his battle insignia. Again, other narrations from late
antiquity tell us that Constantine received Christian BAPTISM as a young man
while he was afflicted with leprosy. The Pope himself baptized him -- and
thereupon Constantine was miraculously cured of his leprosy! From then on,
4th-century author Eusebio of Cesarea assures us --- Constantine was a devout man
and proceeded to make the many law decrees that eventually allowed people of the
same faith to worship without fear of persecution or death in the Roman world.
A very different version of events is found in the late 4th-century texts of another
historian, a certain Lattanzio, who was bishop in Constantinople when the
emperor breathed his last breath. Lattanzio claims that the dying monarch was
baptized in the Christian religion as an older man, on his death bed. Still other
historians disparaging the emperor's life and deeds, even question the veracity of
his conversion altogether!
What contains more truth, though, poetry or history? Is the kind of truth of each of
those two disciplines mutually exclusive?
Modern historian Eberhard Horst proposes that although the emperor's turn in
favor of Christianity may not be ascribable to one individual event, in the large
"arc" of his life, one may indeed see his change of heart.
While I drew this quadrant of the Arch of Constantine, in the two images on this
page, I thought about these controversies. And I also found that in drawing
"freehand" the various large geometries of this area of the arch ---especially the arc
of the arch! -- I also had to pull back and almost "see it in my mind's eye" before
my hand indeed reached the entire scope of the arch.
It used to be that until a few years ago, architecture students across the world's
better universities learned the geometries of the ROMAN font or order of letters
(Times New Roman, nowadays) when they began to learn how to hold in their hand
the drawing pencil, and move its point across the space of the page. Of course this
was before computer programs made such hand movements obsolete, and turned the
act of drawing into an exercise on the digitized keyboard. Again, although such
freeehand drawing lessons were best carried out on the now old-fashioned drafting
table, using not only the T-square ruler but also the protractor and triangle, among
other tools of the old trade, they made students consider the intimate connection
not only between the construction of a letter and that of a building, but also
between these things and the eye-and-hand coordination required to draw lovely,
crisp pencil or pen lines, directly on paper. Without printers and scanners.
In this follow-up drawing exercise of the same central arch of the Constantinean
monument, I began the entire study with the large circles and squares and diagonal
lines that I saw under the architecture. I then focused on the Roman lettering of the
Latin INSCRIPTION, describing how the Senate and people of Rome (=S.P.Q.R.)
had dedicated this triumphal arch to the great and august emperor, based on a
"divine instinct" and on the power of his mind, had defeated the TYTRANT and
faction that were oppressing the city.
Some hands-on knowledge of this type or font of lettering are necessary, of course,
in order for one's hand to almost glide on the paper surface, and to be able to place
each letter in its appropriate point on the epigraph space.
These drawings will serve as notes for me when I proceed next to do a more
full-color gouache painting of the Arch, using brushes and watercolor medium.
It was especially meaningful for me to draw the two freestanding sculptures of the
Dacian prisoners who are at the top of the two Corinthian columns: their elegance
and dignity, though they be slaves, moves me so.
The Arch of Costantino
detail of battle relief from east side
8" x 9"
The story of this Roman Helen, to me, is very compelling. The Catholic Church canonize
her eventually for the role she played in not only her son Constantine's conversion but
in his legalization of the religion in the Roman world. At age 76, HELENA made her
legendary journey to the Holy Land in search of the relic of the True Cross (where Jesus
had been crucified 300 years prior). That same year, her very beloved grandson, Crispo,
Constantine's son, died under ambiguous circumstances. In fact, the emperor's own
wife, FAUSTA, dies at that time by suffocation in the baths at her palace in Rome, also
apparently by violence.
Below are three charcoal studies of HELEN, Constantine as emperor of the East, and of
the Baptism of Constantine as a young man, by Pope Sylvester I (312 A.D.)
The captives ... or Manifest Destiny
Dacian captives ( statues transferred here from Trajan's own triumphal monuments) pose on either side of marble reliefs (transferred from Marcus Aurelius memorials) 9 " x 12 "