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Roman Art

The Greek city states were unable to stay together as a  unified nation and around 146 BC, Greece fell to the Romans. At this time, Rome was the greatest power in the civilized world, and at its very peak.

The Romans were a practical people, less interested in art and beauty than the Greeks before them. They took what they liked from the Greeks (Gods), Etruscans and other conquered peoples, and made major contributions to art, mostly in the form of architecture and civil engineering. They constructed roads, aqueducts and public baths; the ruins of which are still impressive and have made it impossible for later civilizations to forget the "grandeur that was Rome".

Contributions of Roman Architecture:
Concrete A mixture of powdered minerals and small stones used to create buildings with great domes and ceilings. (e.g. the Pantheon in Rome).
The Round Arch (dome) This curved arrangement of stones over an open space increased architectural design possibilities. A series of round arches could also be used to build bridges and other structures.
The Aqueduct (Viaduct) A network of man-made channels was constructed to carry water to a city using round arches to span high valleys (e.g. 600 yards at Nimes) while retaining the slope for the water to flow. Viaducts allowed the armies easier access to less hospitable areas and enable trade of goods from these areas.
The Triumphal Arch
Contributions of Roman Sculpture:
Portraits Roman portraits (busts) were made to show specific individuals without idealization.
Relief sculpture Large columns and triumphal arches were often covered with reliefs depicting the deeds of emperors in battle.
Equestrian statues Statues of men on horseback. The man was often an emperor.


  1. The Lupa Romana, 5th-6th cent. BC, Etruscan bronze 33 1/2" high. Palazo dei Conservatori, Rome.  Photographic photograph.
    One of the most famous animals in the history of world art, the She-wolf of the capital (Lupus Romana) owes her fame not simply to antiquity and magnificence as a work of art , but for centuries she has been the totem of the city of Rome. Ancient legend tells us that the founding heroes of Rome, Romulus and Remus, abandoned as infants, were suckled by a she-wolf. The cult of Romulus and Remus was as old as the 4th century BC and we know that a statue of the wolf was dedicated on the Capitoline Hill in Rome in 296 BC. The present statue may not be the original.

    The vitality of Etruscan art is concentrated in the tense, watchful animal body, with its spare flanks, gaunt ribs and powerful legs. The lowering neck and head, the alert ears, glaring eyes and ferocious muzzle render the psychic vibrations of the fierce and simultaneously protective beast; the incised lines along the neck of the bronze produce raising heckles as it watches danger approach. This bronze surpasses the great Assyrian reliefs in it's profound reading of animal temper.



  2. Revelers, c. 475 BC, frieze 42" x 76" Tomb of Leopards, Tarquinia. Reproduction photograph.
    The Tarquinians adorned the walls of their subterranean tomb chambers with colorful and lively murals. This small chamber tomb is decorated in the manner favored in Tarquinia during the 5th century BC: a banquet scene on the wall opposite the entrance and groups of dancers and musicians on the side walls. These wonderfully vital pictures express especially well the peculiarly life-affirming exuberance that fills Etruscan art as it must has filled Etruscan existence.

    Three young men, one clad only in a light scarf, the other two in elegant cloaks seem to be hurrying through a grove of graceful laurel trees. The leader carries a cup of wine and is beckoning the others who play the double flute and seven-stringed lyre. The seem to already be dancing, facing rhythmically in opposite directions as if performing some circling step. The gestures have a kind of choreographic exaggeration, especially those of the enlarges hands and fingers of the flautist, which hold and touch the instrument with sureness and delicacy.

    It is rare in a painting of the ancient world that spirited movement is portrayed so convincingly, and it would be difficult to find from that time so fitting a monument to the beauty of youth, springtime, music and dance. The picture is a kind of fresco painting on a thin slip applied to the rock wall or on a stucco paste made from the rock. The colors - blacks, blues, blue-greens and ochre reds - still retain much of their original freshness and harmonize easily and naturally with the creamy yellow ground.



  3. Head of Aphrodite, 1st cent BC to 1st cent AD, J Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, CA, Scale reproduction statue. 
     The bronze original was inspired by the "Knidia" by Praxiteles the first nude goddess of love in Greek art. An interesting feature is the sculptor's use of a real gold earring with a tiny pearl added to it. In spite of it's small scale, the piece shows the true monumentality of classical art.


  4. Antefix, c.79 AD, Roman villa tile. Plaster Reproduction.
    Antefixes were ornamental tiles used on classical buildings to conceal the ends of the joint tiles of the roof and to prevent birds from nesting inside.


  5. Arch of Titus,  81 AD ,  Forum Romanum, Rome. Marble Frieze. Reproduction photograph.
    This archway relief shows soldiers of the Roman army carrying spoils from the temple in Jerusalem, including the 7 branched candelabrum from the Holy of Holies. The panel is severely damaged. The marching files press forward from the left background into the center foreground and disappear through the obliquely paced arch in the right background. The energy and swing of the column suggest a rapid marching cadence. the the chant of  triumph. The carving is extremely deep. The heads of the forward figures have been broken off., probably because they stood vulnerably free from the block, emphasizing their different placement in space from the heads in low relief, which are intact.


  6. The Dionysian Procession, mid 2nd cent. AD, El-Djem Antiquarium, mosaic. Reproduction photograph.
    This detail is of Silenus on a camel with bacchante and panther. As the god of wine and the grape, the Greek Dionysius had a strong appeal for the wine-loving Romans., who knew him as Bacchus. Silenus was the tutor of Bacchus (Dionysius) and is always depicted as fat and drunk. A bacchante is a priestess. Alongside paces a panther, and animal sacred to Bacchus.

    During the festival of Dionysius, Jews were compelled to walk in the procession under the eye of Syrian guards and Hellenizers. Amid the beating of drums and gongs, trumpet blasts and wild shouts honoring the wine god, they marched along, wearing wreaths of ivy (a symbol of Dionysius) their heads bowed in shame and humiliation.

    While the Greeks used colored stones to create mosaic designs, the Romans excelled in this art. Small pieces of marble were cut polished and fitted together to make an image. Floor mosaics were made of pieces one to two centimeters across. Wall mosaics were made with more care and used much smaller stones, many less than a millimeter in diameter. When completed, the entire surface was polished to feel like a smooth sheet of glass. the grading of colors and values to create rounded forms is difficult when the colors and values must be found in nature.



  7. Portraits, 4 panels of various reproduction photographs of busts (may show as a group)
    These are very individualistic portraits, displaying more fidelity to their subject than the stylized examples produced by previous cultures.


  8. Colosseum, 80 AD, Rome. Reproduction photograph.
    A large, oval amphitheatre built in Rome between 70 and 80 AD. This structure displays all three levels of classical columns - Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. For 285 days of the year, gladiators slaves and animals fought here. The arena could be flooded to form an artificial lake for reenactment of sea battles. Tarpaulins were erected for protection of the audience from the sun. Animals and gladiators were brought up from underground areas by elevator. The Colosseum was built to amuse the general population.


  9. Aqueduct, 1st Century AD, Roman, Pont du Gard, Nimes, France, reproduction photograph (see also: Grade 2 Lesson 7 item 7.)
    This is an example of the many aqueducts built by the Romans throughout their conquered European provinces. It reaches 160 feet high and carries water from over 25 miles away.


  10. The Pantheon, 118 AD, M Agrippa, Rome. Reproduction Photograph

    10a. Interior of the Pantheon, 18th cent. Giovanni Paolo Pannini, Italian (1691-1765) painting. Reproduction photograph.

    The Greeks created exteriors of exquisite harmony, but it was the Romans that gave the Western world a grandly conceived interior. The Pantheon of Rome, one of the most famous buildings in the world, was commissioned by the Emperor Hadrian in 118 AD. it was the world's largest dome for more than 18 centuries. Originally built as a temple to the Roman gods, it is now a Christian church and mausoleum. (Raphael is buried there)

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