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The Decoration of the Aspendos Theatre in the Light of the Baroque Style of the Antonine Era
Birol CAN*

The art of the era of the Roman Empire had developed upon a rich Hellenistic underlying structure, moreover, it has been generally thought to be a copy of it. But, in the Roman period, with its technological development, relationships and extensive trade between regions there occurred over time the formation of original styles combining different elements. Increasing wealth had increased the attention that was paid towards aesthetics and visual arts in this period and the different parts of architectural decoration, whose aim was embellishment, combining with the other local artistic movements, formed a developing stylistic chronology. The architectural decoration of buildings, walled tombs and wall paintings are today the remnants that survive to reflect this style of combination very well.

The remains of architectural decoration, that decorate the facades of public and religious buildings that survive today, not only help in the reconstruction of these buildings but also help to date them. Architectural decoration, exhibiting a chronological development particular to itself, can, at the same time, also provide indications of the relationship between different regions and workshops.

This article is concerned with the stylistic evaluation of the surviving decoration of the Aspendos Theatre and its place and importance in the Roman baroque style of the second century A.D. The magnificient movement based on aesthetics and termed baroque, that appeared in the seventeenth century, in Italy, had an earlier parallel in the Antonine period. The considerable use of the drill, the abstracting of elements from the ground through relief carving, the employment of light-shadow contrasts, the deployment of life forms, natural forms, ornament as decoration, are all characteristics of the style known as the baroque, which begins in the Antonine era and continued into the early Severan period. In this baroque movement, more directed towards the future than the past, by blending the contrast formed from different art forms and from local variations and tendencies, a magnificent and enthusiastic effect was created.

The decoration employed on the stage building of the Aspendos Theatre formed the summit of the baroque style of the Antonine period, by combining both early and late characteristics of the period. All the details of this period of the baroque style and all the types of decoration are here deployed to form a harmony. The decoration of this theatre holds an important position because skilled sculptural artists could display their own original interpretations and also because the relief carving forms its own chronology.

Aspendos Theatre, known as the best preserved Roman Theatre in Asia Minor and the most important Roman building in the Pamphylia region, was constructed from the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 A.D.) onwards, and its construction continued to the end of the second century A.D. In the construction of the stage building, Pamphylian sculptors who had trained in, or were under the influence of workshops from different regions, were assigned in groups to carve the different entablature blocks under the overall leadership of the chief architect Zeno. In addition to the old traditional decoration, such as the bound three leaves (lotus), which were employed in places, and hook-shaped palmette petals, in the Hadrian Era, the symmetry of these elements was altered through leaving out a huge quantity of classical decoration work, producing the intended sense of freedom, irregularity and vitality. The sculpted decoration, also to be seen on structures contemporary with the Aspendos Theatre, are the result of a period in which the previous concern with the symmetrical, the monotonous and the traditional repertory of motifs gave way to active, natural, free motifs and to the new decorative formations of the baroque style.

*Birol Can, Atatürk Üniversitesi, Fen-Edebiyat Fakültesi, Arkeoloji Bölümü, 25240 - Erzurum.

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