Fine Arts

How is secular art different from ancient art?
Answered by Ellen Stockstill and HowStuffWorks
  • Ellen Stockstill

    Ellen Stockstill

  • HowStuffWorks

    HowStuffWorks

  1. This question makes it seem like secular and ancient are opposing terms.  Ancient art, however, includes both secular and religious works.  Secular art does not have a religious or spiritual focus, and instead of thinking of it in contrast to ancient art, we should think about it in contrast to sacred art that features religious themes, people, or includes works used in religious ceremonies.  Ancient art consists of any works produced from the earliest known civilizations up to the fall of the Roman Empire.  Archaeologists have found paintings, sculptures and carvings created by the peoples of Ancient civilizations.

    In ancient Greece, art was secular or sacred, though the line between the two was not always clear, as religious pieces could also carry secular meaning and vice versa.  Vases made and painted in Athens, for example, were for daily use in people's homes and the images painted on the vases might be from myths or from scenes of daily living.  Mythological narratives painted on vases might represent or mirror current life in the Greek city, so a scene containing religious elements might also refer to secular political movements or historical events.  During the early Classical period of Greek art, vase painters continued to feature mythological subjects.  Scenes of gods interacting with mortals were particularly prevalent.  And according to The Oxford Companion to Western Art. Oxford Art Online, secular scenes from this time often focused on women and their daily activities.

    Ancient art in Egypt, it seems, was more overtly religious.  The artist or craftsman was to serve the gods along with the government and the monarch.  Ptah of Memphis was the patron deity of craftsmen, and the High Priest of this deity was in charge of all artistic and architectural production.  Works of religious art in royal tombs often feature paintings of the underworld and of various gods. 

    Many ancient civilizations produced secular and religious art.  Often the secular art would portray scenes of daily life, while the religious might tell the story of a human's encounter with a god. 

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  2. Aside from pictures that were used in lieu of written records, much of ancient art was religious in nature. Religion played a very important part in people's lives, so paintings of mythological characters or biblical scenes were what interested art patrons. Secular art, on the other hand, included paintings of everyday events, still-life arrangements of flowers or fruit, landscapes and portraits commissioned by their subjects or family members.

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