Ancient Roman Art

Sculpture, painting, mosaics, and architecture are some of the artistic forms associated with the ancient Romans. Yet, other art forms such as metalwork, cameo and gem carving, coin making, pottery, and book illumination were also produced. This artistic period does not altogether reflect the Roman Kingdom, but instead focuses on the era of the Roman Republic until the Christian art period of the late Roman Empire when Christianity became the official religion of Rome.

When discussing Roman art it is impossible to avoid the extreme influence that ancient Greece had on it. But Roman art also reflects influences from faraway lands it ruled over. The Roman aesthetic was ultimately composed of influences from Greece, Egypt, Etruscans and other earlier Italic tribes, and areas of Mesopotamia. Nevertheless, despite these strong influences, Romans developed a few innovations that were particular to themselves. For instance, the landscape and its mathematically precise views were unique to Roman artists.

Rome’s primary arts borrowed heavily from the Greeks and it might be said that they continued the Greek traditions. Yet, art historians are quick to point out the superiority of Greek artistic examples. One reason for this is because Greek artists enjoyed a higher place in society while Roman artists were considered working-class and produced art more or less anonymously. These borrowed art forms include free standing sculpture, portrait painting, carved busts, vase art, metal work, and jewelry making.

Aside from portraits and landscape painting, Roman artists painted frescoes as evidenced by the preserved ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. They also painted on wooden panels—few of which have survived as wood does not preserve well. Romans had a wide range of subject matter. Still life painting was popular, but they also preferred to paint mythological scenes, animals, and occurrences from everyday life. Eroticism also popularly figured into the paintings of ancient Rome. Triumphal paintings were very important to Romans as they showcased important military victories or events from wars. In fact, one of the oldest Roman paintings discovered in a tomb is a scene of soldiers and their weapons.

Sculptures were often similar to triumphal paintings in that they served to glorify Roman might. Roman architecture, in many ways, also served to convey the splendor of Rome. The Colosseum, for example, was completed in 80 A.D. Architecture also borrowed heavily from the Greeks. The Romans incorporated Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian styles into their structures. Historians believe that Roman architecture reached its heyday between 98 A.D. and 138 A.D. when palaces, aqueducts, baths, temples, etc…were produced on a magnificent scale.