Compare and Contrast Two Works of Art

Anthony Arteaga Art History Ancient World Homework Assignment #1 Compare and contrast the subject, concept, and the Formal Element of the two works of art. Also, explain which category this work falls in. The two pieces I have chosen can be found on page 200, figure 6-51, Battle of Centaurs and Wild Beasts from Hadrian’s Villa and on page 434, figure 14-8, Battle of the Bird and Serpent. Not only did I choose these pieces for their beauty, but also because both works have similar yet different subjects, concepts, and formal elements. Both of these images have subject matter that is the same even though they’re different.
The subjects for the Battle of Centaurs and Wild Beasts from Hadrian’s Villa are animals; centaurs (male and female), tiger, lion, cheetah; as well as a pelt and rocky scenery. The subjects for Battle of the Bird and the Serpent are animals; peacock, a serpent, and birds in an acorn tree. Both pieces are nature based animals that live in a world where survival of the fittest is reality. The main difference between piece one and two is that in piece one; centaurs are mythological creatures and in piece two the animals are not fictional.
Both pieces have subjects that are the same; however their concepts can be perceived as similar but different. Both pieces have themes that can be perceived as alike. The first image is a male centaur raising a boulder over his head to crush a tiger that has severely wounded a female centaur. The pelt around his arm suggests he returned from a hunting expedition to find his loved one, either lover or sibling, critically wounded by three other beasts and his facial expression is that of concern, instead of rage or fury. The concepts in this battle scene are protection, rescue, vengeance, self-defense, and/or survival.

I use the word survival because the three feline beasts are animals that need to eat as well. They need to eat like all animals and if there is no prey, then there is no food to survive. The second piece is a peacock holding a dead serpent in its beak. The concepts in this piece are battle, victory, triumph, and dominance, when one creature overcomes another. Our textbook says that this scene is an allegory for Christ (peacock) tricking and overcoming Satan (serpent). The peacock has an expression of being removed to the outcome of the battle. Even though both pieces are about battle and bloodshed; there are differences in the concept.
In the first piece the male centaur is the favored winner of the fight, because of his size, blunt weapon, and his element of surprise. But regardless the outcome, he already lost when the female centaur was killed. Whether he kills or is killed by the remaining felines, the female is gone and he can’t bring her back. Unlike the second piece where there is an established winner and loser. Now that I’ve discussed the concepts of these two pieces, I’d like to talk about their formal elements. The formal elements are certain elements that are used to describe the subject or image.
The elements are shape, texture, line, color, space, and values. The shapes in piece one can be found in the background as geometric shapes. There is a triangular stone in one corner and a flat rectangular stone in the opposite corner. A cheetah is mounted on a cube, ready to pounce. The boulder the centaur holds over his head is rectangular block. The scenery is mostly rigid shapes but the subjects have curves in their tails and muscle tone. The shapes in the second piece can vary. In the peacocks wing, body, thigh, and tail you can see a closed tear- drop shape.
There is a row of white circles on the bird’s neck and two rows of white circles on its wing. The tail has a leaf pattern that matches the leaves on the acorn tree. The serpent has a circular pattern on its belly and a scaly pattern on its backside. There are geometric shapes in both pieces; however, the geometric shapes are primarily secluded to the background in piece one and is inside the subject’s body in piece two. In piece two, the shape in the peacock’s tail and snake’s body is organic. Also, the shapes in the background are fuzzier and assumed in piece one where the shapes in piece two are sharper and more defined.
Another formal element is texture. The first piece, according to the text, is a floor mosaic which is composed of many colored tesserae that were laid down in irregular, curving lines, which effectively imitated painted brushstrokes. The individual tiles are more apparent when viewed closely. This gives the piece a grainy and earthy texture, where it physically looks bumpy. The textbook says it has foreshortening, the illusion created on a flat surface in which figures and objects appear to recede or project sharply into space.
The second piece was drawn with tempera on parchment. This makes the piece look smooth, flat, and two dimensional. The next element is color. The hues in both pieces are relatively earth toned. Both pieces have a low level of saturation. In piece one, the sky is mustard brown with a section of mint green that frames the boulder that the male centaur is holding. The rocky scenery has browns and creams with a dull green and brown center. A bright green patch of pine trees is in the corner that contrasts with the sky and rocks.
The colors to the second piece are similar in the sense that it has low saturation. The colors are dull and warm. This piece utilizes reds and oranges, in the serpent, that the first piece does not. Because of the tan background, the green in the peacock’s body emboldens the subject. The brown around its tail compliment the blue inside the tail. Lines are another element that’s used. The lines in the first piece, which are made of many tiny lines and squares, are jagged and sharp. The sky and earth are divided by a jagged rocky background and the same can be said about the foreground.
This creates a stage for the battle. There are jagged lines in the sky that frames the boulder being held. This piece has no physical lines that separate the body and background, which makes it look three dimensional. In the second piece, the acorn tree is a line (with branches) that adds to the images depth. There are lines inside the wing, beak, and talons. There is also a dividing line in both the serpent and in the body of the peacock. The physical lines in this piece separate the subjects and background making it look two dimensional and flat.
Both pieces use lines to accentuate the subjects but the first piece has lines that are realistic and the second piece uses lines as borders for the subjects which makes it look more animated and less real. The next element that artists will use is space. The first piece has a female centaur lying on the ground with a tiger sprawled over her back end. Male centaur is looming over tiger with the dead lion behind him, both their legs overlapping, which also creates a three dimensional effect. A cheetah is on a cube in the background ready to pounce. The jagged foreground creates an illusion of a cliffs edge.
In the second piece, the acorn tree is crucial for establishing where the subject lies, giving it it’s depth. The serpent is hanging from the peacock’s beak and coils beneath the bird. If the acorn tree was gone then the snake would appear to be free falling in empty space. Both pieces have uses depth, but the first piece appears to be more three dimensional where the second piece appears flat. The final element artists will use is value. The first piece has a dark to light value in the rocky scenery and in the shading in the animals, which also adds to its three dimensions.
The second piece has a dark subject value and light background which contrasts each other. The body of the peacock has a darker green hue but is uniform; there is no change in value in the subject. Both pieces have a dark to light value, but the first piece has variation of shades from one side of the piece to the other and within the subjects themselves. The second piece has dark subjects and a light background. Now that we’ve discussed the formal elements, the last topic is which category these two pieces are classified as.
Certain works of art can be classified as representational, abstraction, and non-objective. The first piece is representational with an abstract background. Because of its hues, shapes, and shading; the subjects are portrayed as three dimensional and proportional. Even though a centaur is fictional, it still looks realistic. However, the background’s contours and colors are vague making it more abstract. The second piece is abstraction because of its flat appearance, its bold colors, and the shape of the subject’s eyes, wings, and tail.
The patterns in and around the tail and in the body also adds to its abstraction. The tree in the foreground does not look natural and the birds on the branches are unrealistic. I’ve compared and contrasted the subjects, concepts, and the Formal Elements of two works of art. Also, I explained which category this work falls in. The two pieces I chose is Battle of Centaurs and Wild Beasts from Hadrian’s Villa and Battle of the Bird and Serpent. Both of these pieces have subject matter that can be compared similarly even though they’re different.

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