In antiquity, art was used not only for expressing people’s talents and creativity but also to convey some important messages. One of such types of messages was the expression of political power through art. Two of the works that seem to have born political meaning very clearly are Augustus of Prima Porta and the Church of Hagia Sophia. Augustus of Prima Porta is a marble statue of Augustus Caesar that was created in the 1st century CE near Rome.
The sculptor of the statue is unknown, but there are suggestions that he was Greek since the canonical proportions developed by the Greek High Classical artist Polykleitos were employed (Stokstad and Cohen 175). The Church of Hagia Sophia was built in 532-537 CE in Constantinople. The church was designed by Isidorus of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles, and it belonged to Byzantine architecture (Stokstad and Cohen 239).
Augustus of Prima Porta conveys a message of political power since it portrays a larger-than-life figure of the Ancient Rome emperor in the pose in which he wanted to be remembered by his people. The emperor looks strong and powerful, and he seems to be giving some important speech to which everyone is listening with awe and attention. Augustus is barefoot, which is typical for the representation of heroes and gods. Thus, the statue represents the emperor’s political power through the selection of size, material, and pose.
The history of the Church of Hagia Sophia is also associated with the message of influence. The name of the church is translated as “Holy Wisdom,” and it symbolizes the historical events related to the devastating urban Nika revolt (Stokstad and Cohen 239). After the church’s predecessor, as well as many other buildings, had been destroyed, the emperor Justinian wanted to run away. However, his wife, Theodora, shamed him for such an intention, and her words served as “a battle cry” (Stokstad and Cohen 239). Justinian remained in Constantinople, and the church that was erected by him became the symbol of his power.
It is apparent that the two works have almost no direct similarities. Indeed, comparing a classical sculpture to an example of Byzantine architecture is difficult, especially since the latter incorporate more art media than the former. However, the lack of parallels in style, materials, artists, or time period can be contrasted with the fact that the two works managed to covey comparable messages. Since they both symbolize power, Augustus of Prima Porta and the Church of Hagia Sophia can be used as an example of the way political messages can be communicated through sculpture and architecture. From this perspective, the two works are similar, and they illustrate the fact that art has been employed for political purposes for many centuries.
Stokstad, Marylin, and Michael W. Cohen. Art History. 6th ed., vol. 1, Pearson, 2017.