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The history of roman art and architecture

Roman Art and Architecture

Moffett Studio, 1909 The Romans originated in central Italy, influenced by other local Italian cultures, notably those of Etruriabut from the 5th century they came into contact with the Greeks and from then onwards, the The history of roman art and architecture republic absorbed many aspects of first Classical and then Hellenistic art. However it never lost its distinctive character, especially notable in such fields as architecture, portraiture, and historical relief.

From about the 1st century BC, the rapid expansion of the Roman Empire brought Graeco-Roman art to many parts of Europe, North Africa and nearer Asia allowing the development of myriad provincial arts, ranging eventually from Northern Britain to the Sahara and from Spain to Arabia.

The architectural legacy of Rome is especially widespread. Marble portrait of the emperor Caracalla, marble, h. Lee Fund, 1940, Accession ID: Under the Empire, portrait busts of ancestors—as well as of the now all-powerful emperors—graced buildings both public and private.

Copies and adaptations of famous Greek sculptures were also numerous in houses, temples, baths, and theatres, and they were designed to provide a frisson of culture to what were brash and sometimes vulgar displays of power and wealth. These aspects of commemoration can be seen on a miniature scale on the plentiful and beautiful Roman coinagewhere many of the best portraits can be seen, as well as a wide range of imagery, both divine and documentary.

Didrachm of Rome, silver, 7. Sarcophagus depicting the triumph of Dionysos and the seasons, Phrygian marble, overall: The sculpture produced in the Trier region and elsewhere in Northern Gaul and in the Cotswold region of Britain is lively and uninhibited, characterised by a pleasing fluidity of style which is paralleled by work of a not dissimilar quality produced by sculptors who employed the same soft and malleable stones in the Middle Ages.

Similarly rich in texture but more hieratic in form are the funerary and religious sculptures from Palmyra in Syria. Especially distinctive are portraits of women and men clearly wearing native, non-Roman dress. Wall painting from Room F of the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale, fresco, h. For the 1st century BC and 1st century AD, the largest body of evidence comes from the Campanian cities and suburban villas destroyed by the eruption of Mt.

Vesuvius in AD 79 for example, Pompeii and Herculaneum.

  • Concrete enabled architects to build structures of immense size;
  • Although the practical uses of art were distinctly Roman, the art forms themselves were influenced by the ancient Greeks and Etruscans;
  • The baths and arenas are tributes to the skill of Rome's great builders;
  • Roman aqueducts were often three levels of arches piled one on top of another;
  • In portraying their gods, the Greeks had been influenced by their ideas of form and beauty;
  • To build their open-air theaters, the Greeks had scooped out the sides of hills, using the hills to support the sloping tiers of seats.

In fact the first two styles in particular were taken from the Hellenistic world, as can be shown by comparing Campanian work with paintings from Hellenistic palaces and tombs.

Moreover, painting continued to develop in the Mediterranean world and in the provinces, where archaeology continues to increase our knowledge of later Roman painting. Paintings from the Roman catacombs Christian, Jewish and paganthe Constantinian ceiling paintings from Trierand the row of Christian praying figures orantes from the villa at Lullingstone, Kent in England demonstrate a tendency for figurative paintings to become more formal and anticipatory of Byzantine icons.

A History of Roman Art

Mosaic Fragment with a Dionysiac Procession, mosaic: Many Roman mosaics are geometric in the manner of rugs and carpets, but a vast range of figurative subjects were produced, ranging from mythological and religious scenes to landscape and marine mosaics to scenes of gladiatorial combat and wild beast fights.

Different styles and workshops and differences in repertoire are recognisable throughout the Empire. In North Africa for example we find many realistic representations of the Roman arena, while in Greece and Britain such scenes are largely eschewed in favour of mythology.

The early 4th century mosaic of the Great Hunt at Piazza Armerina in Sicily is a technically superb mosaic depicting violent conflict between beast and beast and man and man, while the contemporary and equally imposing mosaic at WoodchesterGloucestershire, England is far more vibrant in terms of design and in the imaginative stylisation of animals which circle peacefully around Orpheus but perhaps lacks the technical finesse of the Sicilian mosaic.

The so-called minor arts were of great importance in the highly acquisitive Roman society. The rich vied with each other in displays of gold jewellery and services of silver platewhich became ever more impressive in the late Roman period.

Engraved gems were acquired from the known world, including sapphires and emeralds from India, rock crystal from the Alps, and amber from the Baltic.

Hard stones were carved as intaglios to serve as seals or as cameos.

Ancient Roman Art and Architecture

Softer stones such as amber and fluorspar were fashioned into the form of small vessels. Belt with coins from Constas to Theodosius I, gold, enamel, sapphire, emerald, garnet, and glass, Roman Empire, c.

Paul Getty Museum, object number 83. Paul Getty Museum, object number 92. But its influence on the arts of the Renaissance and the Neo-Classical age and thus of our own time renders it strangely familiar to us in most if not all its aspects.

Further reading in Grove.