Roman art: When and where? The topic of Ancient Roman art is a vast one. This art is spanning almost 1,000 years and three continents, from Europe to Africa and Asia. The first Roman art date is back in 509 B.C.E., with the Roman Republic’s legendary founding. This art lasted until 330 C.E. (or much longer, if you incorporate Byzantine art). Roman art also consists of a wide scale of media, including marble, painting, mosaic, gems, silver and bronze work, and terracottas, to name a few.
At this time, Romans had no qualms about adapting artistic influences from the other Mediterranean cultures that surrounded and preceded them. This is why it is frequent to see Greek, Etruscan and Egyptian influences throughout Roman art. However, this doesn’t mean that all of Roman art is derivative.
Greek art had a dominant influence on Roman practice. Rome (though it conquered Greece) adapted much of Greece’s cultural and artistic inheritance. It is also true that many Romans custom-built versions of famous Greek works from former centuries.
Unlike our beliefs today, the Romans did not believe that making a copy of artwork was any less valuable and important than having the original. However, the copies were more often versions than direct copies, and they had little changes made to them. The differences could be made with humor, taking the serious and grave Greek art element and turning it on its head. For instance, the sculptors converted a notably shocking Hellenistic sculpture of the satyr Marsyas being flayed to a knife handle in a Roman dining room.
A knife was the element used to whip the poor satyr, representing not only the owner’s acquaintance of Greek mythology and significant statuary but also a dark sense of humor. From the Greeks’ direct reporting to the practical and amusing luxury item of a Roman enthusiast, Marsyas made quite the journey. But the Roman artist was not only making a replica. He was also adjusting consciously and brilliantly. It is precisely this skill to adapt, convert, mix elements, and add a touch of humor that makes Roman art Roman.
Key Roman Artforms
- Roman Sculpture
Roman sculpture combined the idealized precision of earlier Classical Greek sculpture with a superior target for realism and mixed in the styles prevailing in Eastern art. With their popular replicas of previous Greek masterpieces, Roman sculptors also have preserved for posterity priceless works that would have otherwise been entirely lost to world art.
For the most prevailing works, the Romans used marble and bronze. However, because the metal has always been in high requiring for reuse, most of the existing samples of Roman sculpture are in marble. The Roman taste for Greek and Hellenistic sculpture suggested that the “market” had worn out the delivery of unique pieces. Sculptors had to make replicas. These could be of different quality depending on the sculptor’s skills.
Indeed, there was a school, especially for replicating famous Greek originals in Athens and Rome itself. Roman sculptors also formed tiny copies of Greek originals. These miniature copies were often in bronze and collected by art-lovers and displayed in the home cabinets.
However, Roman sculptors begin to look for fresh avenues of artistic look, moving away from their Etruscan and Greek roots. By the mid-first century CE, Roman artists were looking to capture and create optical effects of light and shade for superior realism. The realism in Roman portrayal sculpture and funerary art may well have developed from the tradition of maintaining realistic wax funeral masks of dead family members in the ancestral home. Turned into stone, we then have many samples of private portrait busts which occasionally present the subject as old, wrinkled, scarred, or flabby. In short, these portraits tell the reality.
By later archeological find, there was even a move towards impressionism using tricks of light and abstract forms. The sculpture also became more colossal with giant, larger-than-life statues of emperors, gods, and heroes. One such statue is the huge bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback now in the Capitoline Museum, Rome. Near the end of the Empire, sculptures of famous figures often lacked proportion. For instance, the heads were significantly enlarged, and figures were most frequently represented flatter and from the front, displaying Eastern art’s influence.
Sculpture on Roman buildings and altars could have different functions. They could be purely ornamental or have a more political function. For instance, on triumphal arches, the architectural sculpture detains in detail the key of campaign events. They emphasized the message that the emperor was a triumphant and civilizing agent across the known world. A classic example is the Arch of Constantine in Rome (c. 315 CE), which also represents defeated and imprisoned ‘barbarians’ to ram home the message of Rome’s dominance.
Such a portrayal of authentic people and explicit historical figures in architectural sculpture is in noticeable contrast to Greek sculpture. Great military victories were typically presented in metaphor, using figures from Greek mythology like amazons and centaurs such as on the Parthenon. Altars could also be used to represent significant individuals in a favorable light.
The most famous altar of all is the Ara Pacis of Augustus (completed 9 BCE) in Rome. This altar includes a large block of masonry, which depicts spectators and participants at a religious procession. It appears as though the figures have been imprisoned in a single moment as in a photograph, a child pulls on a toga, and Augustus’ sister tells two chatterers to be silent, and so on.
Roman Wall Paintings
The interiors of Roman buildings of all portrayal were very regularly luxuriously ornamented using bold colors and designs. The painting on the wall, fresco, and the use of stucco for the production of release effects were all universally used by the first century BCE. They were part of public buildings, private homes, temples, tombs, and even military structures across the Roman world. Designs could vary from complex, realistic detail to extremely imprecise renderings, which often covered all of the accessible wall space, including the ceiling.
Roman painters on the wall (or perhaps their clients) favored natural earth colors such as darker shades of reds, yellows, and browns. Blue and black pigments were also trendy for more straightforward designs, but proof from a Pompeii paint shop illustrates that the artist offered a wide range of color shades. Subjects could incorporate portraits, scenes from mythology, architecture using trompe-l’oeil, flora, fauna, and even whole gardens, landscapes, and townscapes. The purpose was to produce stunning 360° panoramas that transported the viewer from the confines of a small room to the boundless world of the painter’s imagination.
An exceptional sample is the first century BCE House of Livia on the Palatine hill in Rome, incorporating a 360° panorama of an impressionistically rendered garden. The scene runs around one room and entirely ignores the corners. Another marvelous sample is the first century CE private villa known as the House of the Vettii in Pompeii.
With the development of the art form, larger-scale single scenes that represent larger-than-life figures became more ordinary. By the third century CE, one of the best sources of wall painting comes from Christian catacombs, where believers painted scenes from both the Old and New Testaments.
- Roman Mosaics
Roman mosaics were a frequent element of private homes and public buildings across the empire from Africa to Antioch. Mosaics, also known as opus tessellatum, were produced with tiny black, white, and colored squares of marble, tile, glass, pottery, stone, or shells. Normally, each piece is measured between 0.5 and 1.5 cm. Fine details, especially in the central panel (emblemata), were often rendered using even minor components as little as 1mm in size.
Designs included a wide range of colors with colored grouting to match near tesserae. This exacting type of mosaic, which used stylish coloring and shading to generate an effect similar to a painting, is known as opus vermiculatum. One of its utmost craftsmen was Sorus of Pergamon (150-100 BCE), whose work, particularly his Drinking Doves mosaic, was much replicated centuries after.
Popular Art Scenes
Popular subjects incorporate scenes from mythology, gladiator contests, sports, agriculture, hunting, food, flora, and fauna. Often, they even capture the Romans themselves in complete and realistic portraits. One of the most well-known Roman mosaics nowadays is one from the House of the Faun, Pompeii, which represents Alexander the Great riding Bucephalus and facing Darius III on his war chariot. Not just floors but also vaults, columns, and fountains were ornamented with mosaic designs too.
It can be difficult to figure out just what is entirely Roman in the famous Roman art. However, the capacity to adjust, take in, and exceptionally mix influences over centuries of practice makes Roman art different from all the others.
Roman culture and art can and is often part of the tattoo designs around the world. It is a common theme among tattoo lovers because it is very rich with images and details. You can be certain that you will never regret getting a Roman sculpture, mosaic, or even a famous wall painting as a tattoo design.