Plaudits for Porphyrius by Eric Chauvin

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Eric Chauvin

Plaudits for Porphyrius


68.58 x 101.6 cm | 27 x 40 in


  • Most Ambitious ($250 Cash Award)

The world today is not so different from that of our ancestors. Remove the trappings of modernity and what remains is a collection of regional cultures ruled by a tribalism that presumes the worst in people outside our personal spheres of association.

In ancient Rome, tribalism took the form of factions* centered around the sport of chariot racing. Initially there were four factions; the Reds, the Whites, the Blues and the Greens but over time the Blues absorbed the Whites while the Greens incorporated the Reds. In the centuries that followed, the rivalry between the remaining factions was no longer reserved for the chariot races but devolved into an ideological schism that dominated everyday life. By 532 CE, the Roman capitol of Constantinople became so divided by this toxic rift that it was ultimately consumed by a riot that destroyed half the city and killed thousands of its citizens.

Though the factions remained hopelessly entrenched, there was a hero figure at this time for whom both camps could enthusiastically support.

Porphyrius was unquestionably the greatest charioteer of the Byzantine era. His unrivaled string of victories brought him such esteem that he could regularly switch his allegiance between the Blues and the Greens without suffering the wrath of the opposition. In the painting, we see Porphyrius driving the lead chariot in a ceremonial parade preceding the last race. Filling the air around him isn’t the usual cacophony of partisan jeers but the deafening roars of affection both sides feel for their champion.

  We are living at a time when civil discourse has been replaced with personal attacks, compromise is viewed as weakness and truth is what one believes it to be. Stoking all this is a ubiquitous media that profits from fear and nurtures our baser impulse to demonize the 'other'. If we are to avert the looming chaos that destroyed Constantinople, it can only be through seeing beyond our tribalist worldviews and acknowledging the humanity that exists within each and every one of us. A humanity that shines brightest in the joys we celebrate together as a society - whether that be landing on the moon, ending a world war or cheering proudly for a beloved charioteer.

 * More on factionalism in the painting can be found here: