Late Antique

300 AD - 600 AD

The period of Late Antiquity saw changes in all areas of Greco-Roman society. The emperor Diocletian (AD 284-305) transformed the Roman Empire by splitting it into Eastern and Western halves. Then, at the beginning of the fourth century AD, Constantine the Great (AD 306-337) made Christianity the Empire’s official religion. The Eastern and Western Empires soon took divergent paths. The Eastern Empire became known as the Byzantine Empire and persisted for another thousand years. The Western Roman Empire, however, fell in AD 476. The fourth to sixth centuries in the west are therefore a transitional period encompassing the shift from classical antiquity to the so-called “barbarian kingdoms” of tribes such as the Vandals, Franks, Visigoths and Ostrogoths.

Beginning around the third century AD, artistic sensibilities embarked on a gradual change as well. The influence of Christianity predominates in the art of the period, leading to a strong emphasis on spiritual and symbolic, rather than realistic and naturalistic, themes. Christian artists chose to reject the classical ideals of perfection in form and technique. Rather, they sought to present images which would draw the spectator into the inner eye of their work, emphasizing its spiritual significance. Men and women were no longer represented as images of physical perfection. Instead, their appearance was nondescript; their function was to represent historical or biblical characters in symbolic tableaux from the Old or New Testament. The principles of perspective were abandoned in favour of a hierarchy of scale in which privileged figures were greater in size.