The periodization of Roman’s art is connected to the social and political situation on the Peninsula and dependent territories. Traditionally three periods are singled out: Etruscan art, art of the Republic and art of the Roman Empire, subdivided into minor time lapse, corresponding to the reigning of emperors or dynasties.
Etruscans were pre-roman population that occupied the central region of Italy — Tuscany — circa 900 B.C.—264 B.C. Their art experienced influence from civilizations of the Middle East (Egypt and Assyria) during Oriental period (800—650 B.C.) and Greece during archaic (650—500 B.C.) and classical period (500—300 B.C.). On the latest stage (300 B.C.) it was assimilated by Roman culture.
The major part of Etruscan heritage is investigated by the example of sculpture and funeral art. The later one is presented with canopic urns and terracotta sarcophaguses that give samples of highly personalized portraits. This is connected with Etruscan ancestor worship, so they aimed to accurate preserving a human’s features for future generations by death masks. Tombs were brightly painted with mythological and every-day-life scenes, done in a flat manner, close to the one or Cretan or Egyptian masters. Among other things in Etruscan tombs, some elaborate metalwork are found: bracelets, fibula’s, mirrors etc. In pottery they developed bucchero style, famous for the glossy back surface of the ware and elegant shapes.
In the field of architecture, romans produced an impressive number of innovations that allowed them to build on a large scale. They borrowed from Etruscans and improved an alternative to the Greek post-lintel system— semicircular arch. It’s able to handle larger weight and became the basis of many new building-types: from aqueducts (a bridge for conveying water) to vaulted ceilings. Such great structure as Parthenon, with the 4,3 meters in diameter dome, would be impossible without arch-invention and another achievement of roman engineers — concrete. Its lightness and cheapness enabled erecting of massive monuments, like the amphitheater of Coliseum.
Anyway, Greek architectural methods were popular, including in private building. Wealthy romans decorated their houses with classical order. For instance, Corinthian order was used in peristyle of Atrium — a spacy courtyard in the center of a house, with a square whole in the roof and a pool under it. But roman men spent little time at home. Most of their day they were preoccupied with completing their duties, socializing on Forum (a public square for vending, political discussions etc.) or spending leisure-time at Thermae (bath complexes).
Public demonstration of war-power was one of keystones of mightiness of Ancient Rome. That’s why in Republican era “manubial temples” — private temples, commissioned by victorious generals for demonstration of “war booties”— were wide-spread. In the imperial period, Triumphal arches and Obelisks (the taking from Egyptians) were designed to glorify and immortalize historical milestones.
At the decay of Empire, when Constantine adopted Christianity, such traditionally civic structures as basilicas (rectangular, three-aisles buildings with interior colonnade) were turned into Christian temples.
Main virtues of Roman architecture was formulated by Vitruvius as firmitas (solidity), utilitas (utilitarity), venustas (beauty).
A few name of roman sculptors survived till nowadays, mainly because a lot of them were Greek slaves. That explains the common ground of Hellenistic and Roman sculpture and the popularity of Greek sculptures’ replicas. One of the most significant sculptural genre in Roman’s art was portraiture. Chief portrait types were busts, “orator” type (person standing, in toga) and equestrian statues. The first statue of orator type is Aule Mettell (II—I B.C.), considered to be transitional between Etruscan and roman art. It illustrates a trend, oppositional to idealistic esthetics of Hellas — veristic style with extremely naturalistic and meticulous depiction of a human’s appearance. In Republican period busts, as well as full-lengths portraits sometimes represented a person older of his age to emphasize experience and social significance of a model. During Roman Empire, veristic style was occasionally replaced by Hellenistic idealization, when the rulers were shown much younger than they were in actuality. The evolution of sculpture moved towards monumentality of forms as huge figures of gods and emperors (who desired to be presented divine) appeared. In the IV century the artistic manner became more graphical and clear-cut, with the accent on eyes — their intent look incarnates the idea of predominance of spiritual over materialistic.
According to written evidence, romans knew easel painting. However, no examples of it came down to us. The insight on their painting traditions can be given by mural painting. Its developments is described in four styles that were found on excavations of legendary Pompeii. The first style (200—80 B.C.), shaped under Hellenistic influence, was imitating of marble or other textures, like wood or alabaster, in vivid colors on painted plaster. Typically images were combined with stucco, unlike the purely pictorial The Second style (1 cent. B.C.). The latter was characterized by, illusionism, attempts of realistic depiction of still-lifes, landscape with views of streets and squares, done in relative perspective, and numerous mythological scenes. The Third (20 B.C.—10 A.D.) was the reactional against the preceding one: it gave preference to more decorativeness, putting small scenes into monochromatic background with architectural framing. The Fourth Style (20—79 A.D.) was more baroque-like, combining large multi-figural or panoramic images with ornamentation of the previous style. The subjects of the paintings were various — from animals to erotic scenes.
One of the most popular forms of monumental painting was mosaic that could be found in private houses as well as in public places, on the floors, columns or vaults. Stylistically diverse, it provides unique information on romans’ life — from leisure to food.
A special mention is required of the Egyptian encaustic (wax) Fayum portraits that naturalistically depicted a death’s person appearance. Usually they covered the face of the mummy.
Despite of obvious connections with Greek and Etruscan art, romans managed to develop their own visual with emphasis on the ideas of naturalness and glorification of avowed virtues. It’s a complex phenomenon because of multipolar artistic contributions, brought by numerous territories of the Roman Empire.
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