Pedestal from Arch of Constantine-- Figures of Dacian
prisoners with Roman guards and of Victory with
watercolor 12" x 9"
|Arch of Constantine
My own interest in the pedestals of Rome's Arch of Constantine goes back to the fact that
they are significant members of the arch as a composite, since they hold up or serve as base
to the four great columns with Dacian prisoner figures on each side of the triumphal form.
In the course of my drawing the Constantinian pedestals, I first noticed how the dado area
contained reliefs with allegorical figures such as prisoners, soldiers, etc., and also remarked
how the style of these relief figures is less than classical. But I also thought about the
meaning contained in pedestals -- a meaning that (through habit and wear) may have
become lost to us and that I think we need to remember.
I thought, in fact, of a good way to explain the meaning of a pedestal, after I visited
Rome's new museum for contemporary art -- Zaha Hadid's MAXXI -- the National
Museum of Art of the XXI Century -- a spacious exhibition complex made of steel, cement,
and glass, not far from the City center. A museum where I did not see one single classical
pedestal, in fact.
The tradition of the pedestal as an integral part of monumental, museum, or even outdoor
urban architecture has to do with what I would call aristocratic or heroic art, where the
spectator of the art is invited to admire and reflect on great deeds of the past (historical or
mythological, poetic). In some ways, when we put objects or figures on "pedestals" we in
effect raise them for all people to see or notice -- mainly due to respect and to invite
imitation of what those figures represent. By contrast, the kind of exhibition spaces we
enter when we visit museums like Rome's MAXXI seem to be devoted to a more so-called
CONCEPTUAL art, or to experiments dealing with the nature of space itself or with the
materials or mediums of expression. It strikes me that by contrast to Rome's other
well-known museums, like Villa Borghese, Gallery Doria Pamphilj, or the Vatican
Collections, to name a few, there is at present not a single element or theme put on the
"pedestals" of the MAXXI -- for the visitor to admire or ponder --and this may have
something to do with the fact that these other, more traditional museums exhibit artistic
representations of figures like David slaying Goliath, Aeneas, or Julius Caesar, whose
stories concern themes of friendship, sacrifice, or courage.
My insistence in drawing PEDESTALS, one might argue, is totally unrelated to
contemporary art or its more notorious museum spaces. But it is precisely because
Constantine's pedestals are more than pedestals -- because they consist of heroic figures
and narrative in addition to trim and plinth -- that I find them engaging. The heroic figures
on the dado area, as a matter of fact, seem to be emerging from inside the form, they seem
to be alive inside the pedestals, reminding us of an inner narrative component to pedestal
design and perhaps of the importance of the heroic, aristocratic element in our cities !
Pedestal from Arch of Constantine
Figure of Truth conquering ignorance and of Dacian
prisoner with Roman guards
watercolor 12" x 9"
José Grave de Peralta
|Toroazul Painting and Fine Arts
Arco de Constantino: detail of central arch (north side)
showing pedestal bases of the two columns
pencil 12" x 8"
A pedestal is defined, in classical
architecture, as the base of a column, statue,
base, or obelisk. There are strict proportional
rules and geometries for classical pedestals,
of course. In Rome, the visitor often
overlooks the beauty and importance of these
seemingly secondary architectural or
sculptural elements, and how much their form
depends on the correct proportions or
geometries of their component parts--- the
plinth (base), dado (central area, usually
plain), and cornice (top trim).
Michaelangelo's pedestal for the statue of
Marcus Aurelius on the Campidoglio is one of
the most handsome of these forms.