Roman Art & Antiquities

Roman art would encompass art produced in the city of Rome and in the territories of the empire.

Major forms of Roman art are architecture, painting, sculpture and mosaic work, metal, coins, gemstone intaglios , ivory, glass, pottery, and wood.

Roman artists borrowed freely from those they conquered -- they copied Greek sculptures and, in fact, most of the Greek sculpture known today comes from study of Roman copies.

Roman art relies strongly on Greek models but also derives its influences from the earlier culture in Italy, the Etruscan, the native Italic, and Egyptian. Many wealthy Romans avidly collected ancient Egyptian artifacts.

Roman artists had a great deal of Greek art from which to copy. Trade existed across the Roman Empire, and many slave teachers of wealthy and aristocratic Romans were Greek.

Many now-lost ancient Greek treatises on the arts existed in Roman times. Roman artists typically arrived in Rome from Greek colonies and outlying provinces.

The extremely high number of Roman copies of the vanquished Greeks resulted from the fact that the Romans had a lot to learn from the Greeks. Artistic methods employed by the Romans such as reliefs, marble and bronze sculpture, metal casting, wheel produced pottery, mosaics, cameo intaglio carving, numismatic coinage, metalwork, funerary sculpture, perspective drawing and painting, caricatures, portraiture, landscapes, architectural design were previously developed by the Greeks.

Greek artists were held in high esteem in the Greek culture, but Roman artists were considered tradesmen of no particular worth. The great masters of Roman art are unknown today and left few signed works. The Greeks virtually worshipped aesthetics and wrote many treatises on art theory, but in the barbaric military-dominated anti-intellectual climate of ancient Rome, art was considered merely decorative, and visual evidence of status and wealth, which was the only important thing in Roman society.

Roman art was commissioned, displayed, and owned in far greater quantities than by the Greeks. Wealthy Romans were far more materialistic; than the Greeks -- they decorated their homes with art and fine potteries and furnishings, and lavishly adorned their bodies with fine jewelry.

In the Late Empire until its fall in about 500 AD wall painting, mosaics and funerary sculpture thrived, while life-sized marble and bronze sculpture virtually vanished.

Subjects for Roman painting can range widely --animals, still life, life-scenes, portraits, and mythological creatures and events. Erotic scenes were very popular among the wealthy Roman patrons.

The primary contribution of Roman painting was the development of large and lavish landscapes using what is now considered a crude form of perspective, but the concept of what is correct perspective has changed radically from one culture to the next throughout art history, and no two cultures agree on what is right.

Landscapes were typically forests, gardens, flowers and trees, but architectural scenes were also very popular for the decoration of Roman villas, temples and palaces.

Roman still life subjects are often placed in niches or shelves. They will typically be rendered in heavy pigment and will portray fruit, animals, food, and sea-shells. Water-filled glass jars were a favorite subject and a way of showing artistic skills, as they were in the Baroque, Medieval and Renaissance periods.

Both in Greece and Rome, wall painting was not considered Fine Art. This was the work of tradesmen, considered to be pretty much the same as a housepainter would be today., namely the Severan Tondo from circa 200 AD, and the well-known Fayum mummy portraits, all from Roman Egypt, and almost certainly not of the hig

The most prestigious form of art at this time was marble or bronze sculpture -- wood sculpture was not even considered an artform. Panel painting of tempera or encaustic on wood panels was also highly prized. Only a very few examples of wood panel paintings have survived.

Roman wall paintines generally depict Romans at leisure and include gambling, music and sexual encounters of humans, gods and goddesses.

Traditional Roman sculpture is divided into five categories: portraiture, historical relief, funerary reliefs, sarcophagi, and copies of ancient Greek works.

Portrait sculpture from the Republican era tends to be modest, realistic, and natural compared to works created during the more brutal Empire, which was a time of upheaval and civil conflict.

During the time of the Empire, portrait sculpture of Roman emperors were used for propaganda in much the same way that despots have always used portraits of themselves.

Emperors were considered gods, and therefore their images are highly idealized. The vestiges of the Roman artistic accomplishments survived in the Constantine Byzantine Empire long after they were lost in the West.