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Roman Art

Roman art was characterized by the following:
1) Very large-scale creations
2) Events of a historical nature were depicted as were mythical scenes
3) Every work of art told a tale
4) Paintings were created by working on fresh plaster -- otherwise known as fresco painting.
5)Statues were made of marble
6)Mosaics appear most everywhere
In terms of style, when Rome conquered Greece, they "adopted" and "borrowed" their artistic concepts - thus continuing the tradition of cultural greatness. By this time, people were in the habit of collecting art and placing it in their villas so it was best not to rock the boat - so to speak. Generally speaking, Roman artworks (specifically those works which are now considered to have been the first civic sculptures) were created to glorify those in charge. It was thought that the best way to do this was to make the art big --- really big. And so, arches, buildings and statues (eight and a half foot tall busts were not uncommon), dwarfed most everything around them. Another interesting aspect of the art of Rome is that it depicted people as they really were. After years of "faking it", portraits were crafted to look like the people they represented rather than idealized versions of the same. (veristic portraits)

Pictured here is the Temple of "Fortuna Virilis" (Temple of Portunus.) In plan it follows the Etruscan pattern. The high podium is accessible only from the front and its freestanding columns are confined to the porch. But the structure is built of tufa and travertine, overlaid originally with stucco, in imitation of the gleaming white marble temples of the Greeks, and the columns are not Tuscan, but Ionic, complete with flutes and bases. In addition there are engaged Ionic columns around the sides of the cella. For this reason it is a pseudoperipteral temple.

This is called "Head of a Roman patrician" from Otricoli. It is a veristic portrait, that is, super-realistic with each rise and fall, bulge and fold of the surface of the face represented. It is in bust form too, because the Romans of the Republic believed the head was sufficient to constitute a portrait.

Pictured above is the "Portrait of a Roman general" from the Sanctuary of Hercules at Tivoli. It dates back to 75-50 B.C. and is carved from marble. It stands at a life-size height of 6'2". Interestingly enough, the general has a veristic head with the body of a youthful muscle man. Also, the modesty of the patron dictated that the man's genitals be shielded by a mantle. By his side, and acting as a prop for the heavy marble statue, is a cuirass, emblem of his rank.

Shown above is the reconstruction drawing and plan of a typical Pompeian house. It was entered through a narrow foyer (fauces) which led to a central reception area, the atrium. The roof over the atrium was partially open to the sky, not only to admit light but to channel water into a basin (impluvium) below. Opening onto the atrium was a series of small bedrooms called cubicula (cubicles). At the back was a study, dining room (triclinium), kitchen, and sometimes a small garden.

Pictured above is the Second Style Dionysiac mystery frieze. Art historians speculate that perhaps secret rites of the god Dionysos took place here performed probably by women. On the wall are paintings of all women, except for one boy. Like with First Style art, this Second Style piece attempted to imitate marble revetment, minus the relief modeling. Also, the artist has created the illusion of a shallow ledge on which the painted figures move around the room. The spatial illusionism is confined to the painted platform that projects into the room because this is an early example of the Second Style.

These are the Fourth Style wall paintings in the Ixion Room. It was decorated in the baroque manner of crowded, confused compositions with garish combinations of colors. It was painted just before Vesuvius erupted. The room served as a triclinium in the Pompeiian House of the Vettii and its walls was sort of resume for all previous styles; it had a little bit of everything. But it is Fourth Style because of its characteristic fragmentary architectural vistas. None of the pictures serving as "windows" to the outside actually went together, but rather were to be seen as separate pieces of art.

Here is the Portrait of Augustus as General. This portrait is rather idealized and resembles those of Classical Greece; the sculptor based him closely upon Polykleitos's "Doryphoros." Also, the sculptor got the idea of Augustus's holding his arm out to his troops as he addresses them from the orator Aule Metele. Reference to current events is made on his cuirass as well and at his feet stands Cupid, a reminder that Augustus is from divine lineage being a descendent of Julius Ceasar. This Primaporta statue served as a vehicle for political propaganda.

Ara Pacis Augustae is shown above. Augustus dedicated it on his wife Livia's birthday in 9 B.C. The monument celebrates his most important achievement, that is, the establishment of peace. The alter proper stands within an almost square precinct wall adorned with splendid acanthus tendrils in the lower zone and figural reliefs in the upper zone. Four panels on the east and west ends depict carefully selected mythological subjects, including Aeneas making a sacrifice. Aeneas was a son of Venus and therefore an ancestor of Augustus. The connection between Aeneas and the emperor was a very important aspect of the political ideology of Augustus's new golden age.

Shown above is the Procession of the imperial family. It is on the south frieze of the Ara of Pacis and served as propaganda. It was designed to promote marriage and ultimately, procreation; they were running out of people in the noble class and they needed to keep it alive. It is for this reason that men were shown with their wives and children in this piece---or so art historians believe. For the first time, children were depicted as, well, children rather than the old convention of representing children as miniature adults.

Look to the right, it's Porta Maggiore in Rome! It was erected in A.D. 50 and has a huge attic which bears a verbose dedicatory inscription and conceals the conduits of both aqueducts. The gate is the most noteworthy as the outstanding preserved example of the Roman rusticated masonry style. The Claudian designer of the Porta Maggiore wished to depart from the conventional use of precisely shaped blocks so he opted for the combination of smooth and rough (rusticated) surfaces to create a new exciting facade, a facade in which one may find crisply carved pediments resting on engaged columns composed of rusticated drums. Studied later on, the Porta Maggiore had a profound influence on the design of the facades of some Renaissance palaces.

If you look above you will see the Spoils of Jerusalem (relief panel from the Arch of Titus.)It depicts Roman soldiers carrying the spoils of war, including a Jewish menorah from the Temple in Jerusalem. The illusion of movement in the relief is complete and convincing. The energy and swing of the column of soldiers suggest a rapid marching cadence. Rather than being shallow reliefs, the sculptor here opted for extremely deep carving. The play of light and shade across the protruding foreground and receding background figures quickens the movement.

This is the Arch of Trajan in Benevento dating back to about 114-118 A.D. In A.D. 109, a brand new road, the Via Traiana, was opened in southern Italy, and to commemorate the event the Arch was erected in honor of Trajan. As far as architecture goes, it is almost identical to the arch of Titus, but both of the facades in the Trajan arch are covered with relief panels, giving it a billboard-like appearance. It is an advertisement for the emperor's good traits. Trajan was considered to be "all things to all people."

Above left is the Portrait bust of Hadrian as general. At the time of Trajan's death, Hadrian was forty-one years old. He ruled for over two decades and was always depicted as a mature adult, but one who never ages. This can be seen in the above bronze portrait in which he wears a cuirass; the statue was probably erected somewhere towards the end of Hadrian's lifetime when a second Jewish revolt was put down and Judaea was reorganized as a new province called Syria Palaestina. His likenesses were greatly influenced by Classical Greek statuary, except that the models for Hadrian's artists were statues of mature Greek men. Hadrian himself wore a beard--a habit that, in its Roman context, must be viewed as a Greek affectation--and this would in turn become the norm for all subsequent Roman emperors for over a century and a half.

The structure to the right is an exterior view of the famous Pantheon which dates back to A.D. 118-125. Immediately after Hadrian became emperor, work was begun on the Pantheon, the temple of all gods, one of the best preserved buildings of antiquity and one of the most influential designs in the history of architecture. In the Pantheon, the full potential of concrete, both as a builfing material and as a means for the shaping of architectural space, is revealed. The temple was originally approached from a columnar courtyard and was situated at one narrow end of the enclosure, comparable to the siting of temples in Roman forums. Its facade with eight handsome Corinthian columns---almost all that could be seen from ground level in antiquity---is a bow to tradition, but everything else about the Pantheon is revolutionary. Behind the columnar porch is an immense concrete cylinder covered by a huge hemispherical dome 142 ft. in diameter. The summit of the dome is the same distance as the floor. The design is thus based on the intersection of two circles (one horizontal, the other vertical), so that the interior space may be imagined as the orb of the earth and the dome as the vault of the heavens. The cylindrical drum was built up level by level using concrete of varied composition. Also, the thickness of the dome gradually decreases as it nears the cental oculus, the only source of light for the interior. The weight of the dome was lessened without weakening its structure by the use of coffers, that is, sunken, decorative panels which further reduced the mass of the dome and also served the purpose of providing a handsome geometric foil of squares within the vast circle.

Pictured here is Al-Khazneh (the "Treasury"), one of the most elaborate of the Roman "baroque" architectural forms. It is a tomb from the second century A.D. and it can be found in Petra. The elements of Classical architecture are employed here in a purely ornamental fashion and with a studies disregard for what had been long considered correct. The facade of the Treasury is over 130 ft. high and consists of 2 stories. The lower story resembles a temple facade with 6 columns, but the columns are unevenly spaced and the pediment is only wide enough to cover the first four columns. On the upper level a temple-within-a-temple is set up on top of the temple of the lower story. Here the facade columns and pediment have been split in half to make way for a central tholos-like cylinder, which contrasts sharply with the ractangles and triangles of the rest of the design. The rhythmic alternation of deep projection and indentation creates dynamic patterns of light and shade, an effect of restless oppositions of form.

Shown to the left is Model of Insula at Ostia dating back to the second century A.D. Many of these second century insulae have been preserved at Ostia. The ground floors of the buildings were occupied by shops and shuch and above were as many as four floors of apartments, accessible by individual staircases. Although many of the apartments were large, they had neither the space nor light of the typical private house at Pompeii. In place of peristyles, the insulae of Ostia in Rome had only narrow lightwells or small courtyards. Consequently, instead of looking inward, large numbers of glass windows faced the noisy streets of the city---just like today. They were very much like modern-day apartments, but only deluxe apartments had private toilets. A strikingly modern feature of the insulae is their brick facades which were never concealed by stucco or marble veneers. When a Classical motif was desired, pilasters or engaged columns of brick could be added, but even then the brick was always exposed.

The Asiatic Sarcophagus from Melfi is pictured to the right. It is made of marble and is approximately 5'7" dating back to about 165-170 A.D. It is an eleaborate example of a sarcophagus of the Eastern type with a portrait of a woman on the lid. Although it was found at Melfi in southern Italy, it was actually manufactured in Asia Minor and attests to the vibrant export market for such luxury items in Antonine times. The lide portrait, which carries on the tradition of Etruscan sarcophagi, is also a feature of the most expensive Western Roman coffins, but the decoration of all four sides of the marble box with statuesque images of Greek gods and heroes in architectural frames is distinctly Asiatic.

To the left is the Portrait of Caracalla. His ruthless character is captured in all of his portraits, as shown here. (He is ruthless because the jerk had his wife murdered and also convinced Septimius Severus to arrange the murder of her daddy.) Typical of all the emperors' official likenesses, the sculptor has suggested the texture of the short hair and close-cropped beard by incisions into the marble surface. Most remarkable, however, is the moving characterization of the emperor's suspicious psyche, a further development of the groundbeaking introspection of the portraits of Marcus Aurelius. Caracalla's eyebrow is knotted and he abruptly turns his head over his left shoulder as if he suspects that danger lurks behind. He had a reason to be fearful though, because in the 6th year of his rule, he was felled by an assasin's dagger. The manner of his death would soon become the norm for Roman emperors during the turbulent 3rd century A.D.

Pictured above are the Portraits of the four tetrarchs dating back to A.D. 305. The four tetrarchs were often depicted together, for the aim of the artists responsible for their official images was not to capture individual physiognomies and personalities, but to represent the very nature of tetrarchy itself--that is, to portray four equal partners in power. It is impossible to name the rulers. Each of the four emperors has lost all identity as an individual and has been subsumed into the larger entity that is tetrarchy. All four of these guys is clad in cuirass and cloak and each grasps a sheathed sword in the left hand. With their right arms they embrace each other in an overt display of concord, The figures have big cubical heads and squatty little bodies. The drapery is schematic and the bodies shapeless. Their faces are masks devoid of emotion---quadruplicate images that are as alike as freehand carving can achieve. Here, the human figure is once again conceived in iconic terms and idealism & naturalism, individualty & personality, now belong to the past.

Above is the Peristyle court of the Palace of Diocletian. The colonnade supports an arcuated entablature, one of the features of later Roman architecture that will be embraced by the architects of the Middle Ages. The columnar porch of the residential block has an arch within its pediment. The formal purpose of this motif was undoubtedly to emphasize the central axis of the design, but symbolically it became the "gable of glorification," under which Diocletian appeared before those who gathered in the peristyle court to pay homage to the emperor. The emperor's huge domed tomb was a type that would prove to be verypopular in early Christian times not only for mausolea but eventually also for churches, especially in the Byzantine East.

This is the Arch of Constantine. Constantine had the great triple-passageway arch erected immediately after the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. It was erected in the shadow of the Colosseum to commemorate his victory over Maxentius. It was the largest to be erected in the capital since the end of the Severan dynasty nearly a century before, but the achievement is less impressive when it is revealed that much of the sculptural program of each arch was STOLEN from earlier monuments of Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius, and that the columns and other architctural members also date to an earlier era. The 2nd-century reliefs were, however, refashioned to honor Constantine by recutting the heads of the earlier emperors with the features of the new ruler and by adding his labels to the old reliefs, such as Fundator Quietus (bringer of peace) and Liberator Urbis (liberator of the city), references to the beneficial consequences of the downfall of Maxentius. The reuse of 2nd-century A.D. sculptures are frequently cited as the decline in creativity and technical skill in the waning years of the pagan Roman Empire. While such a judgement is in large part deserved, it ignores the fact that the reused sculptures were carefully selected in order to associate Constantine with the "good emperors" of the second century.