My first art history class trip for the High Renaissance, was to the Colloseum. Only before had I ever driven passed it by cab or bus, and even then I knew it was breathtaking. At night, lights shine from within, casting a faint glow on the marble arches.
On the day of, we took the Metro Line A from Cipro (near the Residence) to Termini, from which we transferred to Metro Line B. Almost every major attraction in Rome is located either on a metro stop, or very close to it. The moment I walked up the steps into the sun (one of the first gloriously sunny days of the month!!), I was faced with the architectural wonder.
I can’t even begin to describe to you how amazing it was to learn about el Colosseo as I sat before it. No textbook and picture could compare to the lecture Professor Carloni gave while we gazed at the ancient amphitheater. Half of the time I could barely keep up with my notes, mesmerized by life as an abroad student in Rome.
I’m going to recap a few of the facts Professor Carloni gave, but I can only begin to express how frustrating it is that learning about the marvel from me cannot begin to touch being lectured before it – you’ll just have to go there and see for yourselfJ.
Briefly, the Colosseum is one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering. It was completed in 80 AD under the Roman emperor Titus, and contains all of the key Roman elements renewed in the High Renaissance:
1) The amphitheater was formed out of marble, more specifically travertine, a form of limestone deposited by mineral springs. Travertine caves are located near to Rome, though much marble was also imported.
2) The arches of the Colosseum are strictly Roman. The Greeks did not know how to use the arch. When they built, they were forced to plan around slopes of hills and other natural features. The autonomous nature of el Colosseo is very characteristic of Roman architecture. Though arches are technically the invention of the Etruscans in Italy, the squat and primitive archetypes did not compare to the current Roman arch.
3) The arches are upheld by quadrangular pilasters. Rather than use circular columns, the Romans built with pilasters that could hold more weight and support immense forces from the side. These enabled the sheer size of the Colosseum and other Roman architecture to be possible.
4) The decorative carvings on the Colosseum serve a very specific artistic purpose. Back then the structure was designed to react to light in an entirely new way, with the ability to create chiaroscuro (use of strong contrasts between light and dark) and new visual shapes. According to the floor of the Colosseum, the décor alters. For instance, the ground floor is strictly Doric in nature (to create the illusion of strength), the middle ionic, and the upper levels Cornicing. There is a specific succession of orders. Semi-pilasters on the top levels bring light down quickly – something suggestive of a beam of white light in Roman paintings.