Informative Essay: “Art in Late Antiquity” – 10 Topics to Impress Your Readers

Topics and ideas
Posted on March 3, 2016

If you are tasked with writing an informative essay on art in Late Antiquity, review the 10 facts below. These are taken from across the specified time period and across the different movements in art which were revered by religious leaders and the general public alike.

Be sure to review all ten in order to find something substantial and ideally suitable for your next writing assignment:

  1. Art transformed from the Middle Ages where it focused on bright colors to draw attention to the contrast between the main characters within the artwork in pieces symbolizing of love and sensuality. Painters of the Renaissance period used lighting and the force of contrast and shadow effects, drawing attention to the fact that love has different forms, not just an emotional response but also the love of body and sensuality. The Middle Ages would focus upon the same content, using different artistic ideals to convey sacred ideas. This piece focuses on displaying scenes from the Bible with contrast in lighting meant to reflect the angelic nature of man or prophets to those pieces.
  2. During the Middle Ages, the religious movement which came from this transitional period is referred to as “Modern Devotion” which encouraged people to seek a personal relationship with God through reading and meditating upon the scriptures (Davies 469). Soon there was an artistic movement of stressed Naturalism. This painting is consistent with the themes of the time, indicated by the subject and many other facets. Oil paintings which had a close resemblance to optimal reality became the major artistic style. Roman-based artists were spread throughout Rome and Europe and responded to the conflict with Humanism. Refinement became synonymous with Humanism for the emerging middle class. New definitions of beauty were explored by conscious artists who meant experimenting with ideal figure types, proportions, and unusual compositions.
  3. With Late Antiquity there came many changes, including the land conquest lead by Constantine, and after his anointment to power, the promotion of his new religion: Christianity. It is because of his triumph in battle that he had the Church of St. Peter constructed in its honor. This church would have been considered a temple by the Romans and the architecture used for it was typical of Roman public buildings. It assumed the name “basilica” as it encompassed the architectural traits of a basilica. Another aspect to the changing religious tides were related to the dead.
  4. The first centuries of Christianity brought with them the catacombs, or underground network of passages in which to bury the dead. Inside of these buildings were found paintings and artwork on the walls and ceilings which showed scenes of salvation. The catacombs of the Late Antiquity period were underground passageways which were used to bury the dead. Inside of the catacombs were cubicula’s which were small rooms known as mortuary chapels. The Loculi were the openings in the walls where the dead were received.
  5. During this period the earliest figure represented across the artwork found in many architectural triumphs and older buildings alike include is Christ in his role as the Good Shepherd. The altar’s location within the churches was significant, typically aligned toward the east. With Late Antiquity architecture, ambulatory was the passageway which surrounded the altar of a church. The apse was the endpoint of that altar’s location. The atrium was the courtyard of the church or of a Roman house. In Christian architecture, having an axially planned church was symbolic of an ideal and this took form in a basilica. From the clerestory, or third window of the church, one might have a better view of the sunken panel located inside of the ceiling, as well as the entrance into catacombs. It was common for a lunette to be present over a doorway, a crescent-shaped space, inside of which paintings or sculptures were held.
  6. Some of the more famous sculptures from this period include the Four Tetrarchs, which came from the Late Antiquity period around 305 A.D. The Emperor Diocletian converted the empire of the time into four administrative units each of which were governed by a tetrarch. The porphyry group was shown as all four looking alike in the statues and artwork in order to suggest unity and stability. Constantine was able to defeat the former tetrarch Maxentius during the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. The defeat was captured in the beautiful sculpture. Another sculpture is the colossal head of Constantine, which came from the Late Antiquity period and is dated to between 310 and 330 A.D. His head is like many statues of Constantine which were designed with a message: the open and unblinking eyes were meant to tell his people that he was always watching.
  7. One of the more famous large artistic pieces is the Ravenna in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. This mausoleum is covered with a beautiful painting which takes up the lunette over the doorway. It is dated to between 425 and 500 A.D. A piece of famous architecture from this period is the Basilica of Constantine located in Trier in Germany. This building represents a great many of the famous Late Antiquity aspects, including the clerestory, the sunken ceiling panels, the lunette, the apse, and the ambulatory.
  8. Churches during this time used a chalice, or cup, during their ceremonies. It was also heavily integrated into the artwork which came from that period. They also used the first four books, or Gospels written by the Four Evangelists. In the artwork from this time period Matthew was construed as an eagle. Mark was painted as a lion. Luke was portrayed as a bull. John was also painted as an eagle.
  9. The mausoleums or tombs were another type of building modeled artistically after Roman buildings. They were important because the burials took place outside of the city walls, while Christian churches sought to memorialize the dead and simultaneously show how unimportant the physical body was by incorporating the bodies into the ceremonies. This can be found in many artistic pieces.
  10. Purple was the imperial color, something which is seen throughout the artwork from this period. The Porphyry stone was reserved for the emperors because it had that bright purple color so regularly associated with the leadership of the time.

These 10 facts should give you a good idea about the art in late antiquity. You may also check our 20 subtopics on this matter and a guide on how to write an informative essay on it.


Brown, Peter Robert Lamont. The world of late antiquity, AD 150-750. Harcourt College Pub, 1971.
Davies, Penelope. Janson’s History of Art: The Western Tradition (Upper Saddle River, NJ 2006.
Doar, Bruce G. “The Great Wall of China: Tangible, Intangible and Destructable.”China Heritage Newsletter 1 (Mar.-Apr. 2010). Print.
Edmunds, Richard L. Northern Frontiers of Qing China and Tokugawa Japan: A Comparative Study of Frontier Policy. Rep. no. 213. Chicago: University of Chicago: Department of Geography, 1985. Print.
Fowden, Garth. Empire to commonwealth: consequences of monotheism in late antiquity. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.
Mathews, Thomas F. The clash of gods: a reinterpretation of early Christian art. Princeton University Press, 1999.
Sambursky, Samuel. The physical world of late antiquity. Princeton University Press, 2014.

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