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Art, when examined on a grand scale can be interesting. Looking into an entire era of art–whether it spans decades, centuries or more–can give a taste of the culture and beauty of a civilization as a whole. But truly bringing yourself in touch with the art and culture of a time can be achieved more easily by narrowing your focus. Sometimes, narrowing your focus means down to an artist, sometimes it’s just one culture within an era of art. Since breaking down art history into its five distinct categories in a recent post, it comes time to dive more deeply into each era individually, exploring the intricacies of what made ancient art ancient, or what makes modern art modern.
Each month I will choose a new era or specific culture’s art, and dive into the history and intricacies of what made their artform unique and noteworthy.
Ancient Roman Art
The term ancient Roman Art is about as nonspecific as we’re going to get during this series. The period that we consider to be “ancient Rome” spans nearly 1,000 years and includes tastes and influences from various surrounding territories. The Greeks, for instances had direct and measurable impacts on Roman art through time.
The Romans featured a wide array of art forms during their time creating art, including wall paintings, murals, mosaics and sculptures. Art could be found both in personal homes as well as on the street and in public displays.
Despite painting not being one of the more highly-esteemed forms of Roman art, it could be found everywhere from the walls and roads of the streets of Pompeii to the Catacombs of Rome. The Romans are credited with popularizing landscape painting, a subject which the Greeks had little to no interest in. Generally speaking, though portraits were created regularly, they were not considered to be particularly “artful” or “high art” by many Romans.
By far the highest esteemed paintings in Ancient Rome were panel paintings, painted directly on wooden panels and sometimes joined together to form larger pictures.
Sculpture was, in Ancient Rome, considered the highest form of art. Often made of marble or bronze, Romans often created statues, busts and funerary sculptures such as tombs. Often, these were created not only to be appreciated for their beauty, but as a status symbol for all of Rome. Sculptors would not hesitate to put their skill on display to both citizens of Rome and outsiders, giving them an opportunity to soak in the Roman culture and aesthetics while walking through the city.
If there is one thing that many people can correctly identify as Ancient Roman art it is the luxurious and era-defining architecture of Rome. They invented the vaulting ceilings found in many ancient buildings and popularized the use of arches. These techniques for ornate and beautiful structures didn’t necessarily arise completely out of the desire for aesthetic pleasure, but for necessity. The Roman Empire was incredibly widespread; the vast landscapes forced the architects to create a faster, more efficient means of construction that maintained the beauty that Rome had been known for.
The Pantheon and the Colosseum were constructed primarily from concrete, an underutilized building material at the time. They represent just a fraction of the incredible architectural feats that the Romans could pull off. Perhaps an underappreciated facet of architecture is the wide array of beautiful columns that the Romans developed. With the primary intention of supporting the buildings erected upon them, varying styles of columns, each more ornate than the last were developed over time.