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• Roman civilization is far more accessible to us than any other civilization in the
ancient world; we know a great deal about its history; yet answering the
question “what is Roman art?” can be difficult.
• The Romans had great appreciation for ancient Greek art, imported many
Greek originals, and made copies in great numbers
• Their own works were often based on Greek sources
• The Romans did not develop a rich literature on the history and theory of their
art the way the Greeks did
• Scholars used to think of Roman art as “Greek art in its final phase” - but
today, we can think of Roman art as distinctly different, and judge it by its own
standards, in the context of its own unique circumstances and aims
• Roman art is not as consistent in style as Greek or Egyptian art, but that
complexity is its strength
• The Roman Empire was expansive, diverse, vast, and wealthy; its capital was
Rome in what is now Italy
Architecture: Arches and

• The ARCH and the VAULT, [required links],and the systems derived from them (the barrel vault, the groin vault, and the dome), are the
key aspects of Roman architecture.
• Concrete, a mixture of mortar and gravel with rubble, is also vital. It is strong, lighter than stone, cheap, and adaptable. Concrete makes
Roman architecture possible. They hid the raw surface with facings of brick, stone, or marble, though these facings rarely still exist today -
we see the concrete bones of the buildings.
• Above, The Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia, east of rome, the oldest monument in which we see these characteristics
The Sanctuary of Fortuna
• At left, a model of the
• Below, a barrel-vaulted
recess at the Sanctuary
The Colosseum
• High caliber of engineering, sense of discipline, order and
permanence characterize Roman architecture, typified by
the Colosseum in the center of Rome; completed in AD
• Huge amphitheater used for gladiatorial games; a “world
theater” where the empire came to watch myth, history,
and current events bloodily restaged before its eyes
• At the Colosseum’s inauguration, condemned criminals
were paraded and thrown to lions; male and female
hunters battled wild beasts in an artificial forest; and
Greek mythological tales were reenacted; the arena was
flooded so mermaids could frolic and warships could duel
• One of the world’s largest buildings, it could hold 50,000
• The exterior, dignified and monumental, reflects the
interior of the structure but clothes and accentuates it in
cut stone; fine balance between vertical and horizontal
elements in the framework of engaged columns and
entabulatures that contains the endless series of arches.
• The three Classical orders are superimposed according to
“weight” with Doric on the ground floor, followed by
Ionic and Corinthian; though they are structurally
superfluous they give the building the dignity and
authority of tradition
The Pantheon
• Large round temple of the second century
AD; one of the best preserved of Roman
structures; erected by the emperor Hadrian
• Dedicated to the seven planetary gods
• A deep Corinthian porch all but hides the
plain cylindrical drum or rotunda
surmounted by a gently curved dome
• While the exterior is heavy, the interior is
light, airy, and harmonious
• The dome is made of interlocking ribs that
form a structural cage; permits the use of
lightweight coffers (recessed panels)
arranged in five rings
• Height from the floor to the oculus (eye)
at the top is the same as the diameter of
the dome’s base and the interior; all the
proportions are in exact balance
Models of the Pantheon
Basilica of Constantine
• A basilica was a hall used for civic purposes;
building plans varied
• This basilica was built by emperors Maxentius
and Constantine
• Today only the north aisle, consisting of three
huge barrel-vaulted compartments, stands
• It was entered through the narthex at the east
end; at the opposite end there was a
semicircular niche called an apse where a
statue of Constantine stood
• Three groin vaults covered the center space, or
nave, and rose higher than the aisles; these
vaults acted as a canopy and the walls of the
nave could be pierced by large windows called
the clerestory.
• Though this represented a daring attempt to
create new, vaulted architecture, this represents
a unique structure in Rome
• 700 years later vaulted churches became
popular in Western Europe
• A Roman Patrician with Busts of His
Ancestors, late 1st century BC, marble,
• Represents the emergence of a clearly
Roman portrait style
• Shows an unknown Roman holding the
heads of his ancestors (probably his
father and grandfather)
• Somber faces and grave demeanor
project a spirit of patriarchal dignity
• Unlike the Greek portrait head from
Delos, which is expressive; the
Patrician’s psychology is incidental; the
sculptor was interested in documentary-
style realism (known here as the
“verist” style) and accentuating the
sitter’s rugged, stern, “Roman”
Augustus from Primaporta
• Marble, c. 20 AD
• Sculptural portrait of the emperor Augustus,
meant to suggest that he is godlike
• He is enveloped in an air of divinity, suggested
by his bare feet; myth and reality are blended
(Cupid on a dolphin reminds the viewer that the
emperor’s family was supposedly descended
from the goddess Venus
• Despte a heroic, idealized body derived from the
Doryphoros, the sculpture has an unmistakably
Roman flavor
• The emperor reaches out toward us; his costume
(including an allegorical breastplate), is textural
• His head is idealized, but an authentic likeness
Portrait Heads and Busts
• Faustina the Younger, C. AD 147-
8, marble
• Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ wife;
although it is a clear likeness her
features have been idealized (even
her hairdo is completely
• Meant to be a model of Roman
womanhood: devotion to home and
family, affection, piety, grace,
beauty, fertility, chastity
• Tunic and cloak are signs of
• Phillipus the Arab, AD 244-49, marble,
• “Soldier emperor” during turbulent time
of war, reigned over the 1000th
anniversary of the founding of Rome
• Powerful likeness, but aim is expressive
rather than documentary; his portrait
reveals a careworn individual beset by
the burdens of the world
• Expression centers on the eyes, which
gaze out at some unseen threat; hair
rendered in military crewcut (not
stylized); instead of a beard, stubble is
• This was commissioned, and meant to
be flattering: showing him prepared to
handle stress
• Constantine the Great, AD
312, marble
• First Christian emperor,
reorganizer of Roman state
• Face is not a true portrait
• One of several fragments of
a huge statue from the apse
of Constantine’s basilica
• Head alone is 8 ft tall; an
image of imperial majesty
rather than a living,
breathing man; was intended
to give the viewer the
impression of truly
superhuman power
Narrative Reliefs
• Arch of Titus, Rome, c.
AD 81
• Example of Roman high
relief carving; erected to
commemorate the
victories of emperor Titus
• More on the Arch of Titus
Column of Trajan
• Erected between AD 106
and 113 to celebrate the
emperor Trajan’s
victorious campaigns
against the Dacians; 125
ft tall
• We see the conflict
between the documentary
purposes of imperial art -
to portray the victories of
the emperor - and the
desire to treat space in a
realistic way
• Very ambitious, spiral
narrative frieze,
unfolding like a scroll;
carving is shallow but
Roman Painting
• We know much less about Roman
painting than we do about its
architecture or sculpture
• Almost all the surviving works are
wall paintings in Pompeii,
Herculaneum, or other towns buried
by the volcano eruption of Mount
• Wall paintings were decorative, often
including copies of major
• This is the Ixion Room in Pompeii;
contains examples of four
phases/styles of Roman painting
• More on Roman painting (required)
• Portrait of a Boy, Roman Period, Lower
Egypt, second century AD, encaustic on
• Part of a group of painted portraits found in
Egypt that represent the only coherent
examples of this type of painting to survive
• Encaustic is a durable medium using
pigments suspended in hot wax
• An artist working with encaustic needs to
work quickly, so there is an immediacy and
amazing freshness of color
• Style of this group of paintings includes
emphasis on the eyes, placement of shadows
and highlights, and angle from which the face
is seen
• Over time, these elements stiffen into a fixed
type which we will see later