Throughout the centuries, there have been civilizations that have risen to power only to crumble after a couple of decades. Such was the plight of the Roman empire as well. However, if there is an aspect that has remained standing from the ancient Roman era, it would be the art.
When one considers ancient Roman art, though, it is not an easy topic to cover, seeing that it spans over 1000 years over the three continents of Europe, Africa and Asia. Here is a quick crash course on the history of ancient Roman art.
When and where?
The first Roman art can be dated back to 509 BC. when the Roman Republic was founded. They had a good run, which lasted until around 330 AC, but when Byzantine art is included, the period extends even further.
Their art was not limited to painting alone as they also created masterpieces in sculpting, mosaic, gems, silver and bronze work, terracotta and architecture. What makes Roman art so unique is the influence of other cultures as the city of Rome was a multicultural hub.
They had no issues in borrowing ideas from the Greeks and other Mediterranean cultures that surrounded and preceded their own. This is also one of the headaches for historians as they often find it difficult to define what is Roman about Roman art.
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Roman philosophy of art
Today, we ascribe much value to original works of art, the whole one-of-a-kind syndrome. The Romans did not share the sentiment as they felt that a copy of the original had equal value and that the same amount of effort and skill went into the copy as the original.
Their copies were not always exact replicas, though. They would take the seriousness of the Greek originals and add some satirical humor to the piece. The humor was often of a dark nature, but it was this ability to change and adapt the originals that made Roman art Roman
The Republican period
The Republic of Rome was said to have begun in 509 BC when Tarquinius Superbus
was overthrown. During this period, the Romans would elect a new magistrate annually. The magistrate consisted of two consuls and the senate. It took around 400 years for the system to implode and civil war brought an end to it all.
During this time, though, the main theme of art was governed by the state and it mainly revolved around public sacrifices and military victories. The veristic style was born as sculptures were made to be hyper-realistic, accentuating every flaw. This would signify the great deeds and wisdom with which the leaders of the republic would govern.
The Imperial period
When Augustus rose to power, it signaled the end of the Republican era
and took boasting to a new level. Artists were now in the service of the ruler and the purpose of art was to aggrandize the ruler and his family. As the ruler changed, so did the style of the art. The artistic periods were then subdivided according to the ruler and spanned from the Augustan dynasty to the Constantinian dynasty.
The Imperial era saw a return to the classics where natural form and smooth lines were once again used widely. The Greeks perfected the proportional nude and the Romans built on this tradition during this period.
Who were the masterminds behind their art?
It is unclear as to who the individuals were who created Roman art as there is very little in the form of contracts or letter naming the artists. They were but mere servants of the empire and their works were considered more valuable than their identities.
The Greeks, on the other hand, made a point of giving credit where it was due. Instead, Roman art is not ascribed to the artist but to the ruler or the dynasty of the time.
The art of the Roman empire is often as complex and complicated as the nation and the times itself. As the shifts in power occurred, so did the style. The one thing that stood out, however, was that each style was characterized by pride. The art itself depicted the Romans and their rulers to be more than human and superior to all others. But it is, as they say, pride cometh before the fall.
James Collins is a college topper currently working with a news outlet and looking after their history, politics and international affairs sections. Hes an exceptional arts and humanities academic writer working part-time for an assignment service. In his free time, he loves volunteering for social causes and watching nature and environmental documentaries.