Art History Lab

From Greek Influences to Unique Expression: The Evolution of Roman Art

Influence of Greek Art and Culture on Roman Art

When we think of ancient art, we often think of the Greeks and Romans. While each had their unique style, the truth is that the Romans heavily borrowed from the Greeks.

In fact, the Greeks art and culture had a profound influence on Roman art, which is why it became an iconic part of Roman history. Greek culture had a strong impact on art, literature, architecture, politics, and philosophy.

Romans who were exposed to this Greek culture were fascinated by their art forms, which led to the development of Roman art that was inspired by Greek art. To better understand how Greeks influenced Roman art, let’s take a closer look at their different art forms.

Greek Art and Its Characteristics

Greek art is characterized by emphasis on humanism, balance, and naturalism. Greek sculptures are known for depicting the ideal human form.

Sculptures of Gods and Goddesses portrayed them as perfect human specimens. The balance and symmetry of the sculptures were created through the standardization of the human anatomy.

Greek architecture was equally impressive. The Greeks were the innovators of the column, which resulted in the famous Greek temple design.

The Greeks also used sculptures to decorate the faade of the temple. Greek literature had a great impact on the Romans.

Their myths and legends had inspired many famous Roman writers such as Virgil and Ovid. Greek philosophy had influenced the development of Roman philosophy.

Greek pottery was also a major influence on Roman pottery. Greek pottery had distinctive styles such as black-figure pottery and red-figure pottery.

It was characterized by intricate patterns, skillful painting, and expressive forms.

Roman Art and Its Characteristics

Roman art had its unique style and was innovative in many ways. It was fundamentally different from Greek art, where the focus was on perfect and idealized forms.

Roman art focused more on the faithful representation of events and figures. Roman sculptures, though based on Greek designs, had more complexity and expressiveness.

Roman sculptures had more movement than Greek sculptures and were also more diverse. The use of real-life expressions was also common in Roman sculptures.

Roman architecture was also massive, and the Romans employed different techniques to create unique structures. The Romans built aqueducts, roads, and monumental public buildings.


Influence of Greek Art and Culture on Roman Art

The Romans were fascinated with Greek art and culture, which led to the development of Roman art that was heavily inspired by Greek art forms. Roman art incorporated many of the Greek elements but created a unique style that was different from the Greeks.

Greek art inspired Roman art in several ways. The standardization of the human anatomy was one of them.

Romans were fascinated with the ideal perfect human form depicted by the Greeks, and they also applied the same idea to their sculptures. The Greeks use of columns in architecture became an inspiration to the Romans.

The Romans used the Greek column design to create impressive structures that could last for centuries. Roman temples had the same faade with columns that were not only decorative but supported the structure.

Roman art also borrowed from Greek pottery designs. The Romans often imitated their patterns, shapes, and styles of Greek pottery.

Also, Greek literature and myths had a great impact on Roman literature and art. The Romans were known for their conquests of different lands, which led to the spread of art and culture.

The Romans were exposed to different art forms and ideas, and they often incorporated these ideas into their art. While Greek art had a profound influence on Roman art, it is important to note that the Romans also developed their unique style.

The development of Roman art was a reflection of a complex society that underwent periods of change and transformation.

The Originality of Roman Artwork

Despite the heavy influence of Greek art, Roman art was highly original and innovative. Roman art was often a reflection of the society in which it was produced, and this led to the development of unique styles.

Roman sculptures were characterized by their emotional expressions and movement. The Romans were fascinated with realism, and they incorporated this in their art.

Roman sculptures had realistic expressions, tattered muscles, and wrinkles, which made them different from Greek sculptures. Roman architecture was also unique and innovative.

The Romans developed different techniques such as the use of domes, arches, and vaults that made their architecture distinct from Greek architecture. The Romans used art as propaganda for the empire’s power and culture.

They produced art to celebrate great military victories or to showcase the wealth and luxury of the empire. The Romans also used art to propagandize public morals and values.


Greece had a great influence on the Romans, particularly on their art and culture. Roman art incorporated many elements of Greek art, and this resulted in a unique style.

The Romans developed their original style by incorporating elements of art from conquered lands and their rich culture. Despite the heavy influence of Greek art, Roman art was highly original and innovative.

Roman art was often a reflection of the society in which it was produced, and this led to the development of unique styles. The Romans used art as propaganda for the empire’s power and culture, and it played a significant role in shaping Roman art.

Development and Influence of Roman Sculpture

Roman sculpture was a continuation of Greek sculpture, but with some differences. Roman sculpture was known for its realism, and this was a shift from the idealized human forms characteristic of Greek sculpture.

Roman sculpture usually had more expressive faces, and they tended to depict everyday people, unlike Greek sculptures that have focused more on gods and goddesses. During the Roman Republic era, portraits were a significant type of sculpture.

These were images of distinguished individuals, often high-ranking officials and generals. The portraits were either made of stone or bronze and were intended for public display.

One of the earliest examples of Roman sculpture is the bronze statue of a drinking-lass known as the Capitoline Wolf, which stems back to the fifth century BCE. The statue is considered one of the great pieces of Roman sculpture, and it depicts a she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, who were twin brothers that, according to legend, founded Rome.

Throughout history, Roman sculpture has seen various innovations and developments. One of the most significant developments was the use of marble instead of bronze or stone.

Marble allowed for greater detail and intricacy, and it was also easier to work with. Roman portraits were also highly influential in the art and culture of the time.

These portraits were used to honor high-ranking officials, celebrate victorious generals and to commemorate departed loved ones. The Romans believed that the sculpture, particularly the portrait, should capture the essence of the individual and make them everlasting.

The Colosseum and Triumphal Arches were also monumental works of sculpture that showcased not only Roman engineering and innovation but art as well. The Colosseum, built-in 80 CE, was the largest amphitheater of the time and could hold up to 50,000 spectators.

The Triumphal Arches, such as the Arch of Titus and the Arch of Constantine, were built to commemorate military victories or to honor famous leaders.

Notable Roman Sculptures and their Historical Context

Roman sculpture has produced some of the most impressive works of art throughout history. Several of these sculptures have even survived to our time, and they continue to impress and evoke admiration.

The Laocoon Group

One of the most famous Roman sculptures is the Laocoon Group, which depicts the mythological priest Laocoon being attacked by serpents. The sculpture is considered one of the great masterpieces of Hellenistic art.

It was discovered in the 16th century inside the palace of Emperor Titus.

The Marcus Aurelius Equestrian Statue

Another notable Roman sculpture is the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. It is a bronze statue from the second century AD, which depicts the emperor riding on a horse in full battle armor.

The statue has a historical significance in the Roman Empire, as it is considered the first free-standing equestrian statue to be produced since the era of Augustus.

Augustus of Primaporta


Augustus of Primaporta is a statue of the founder and first emperor of the Roman Empire, Augustus Caesar. The sculpture was discovered in 1863 and is believed to have been produced around 20 BCE.

The statue is famous for its intricate details and symbolism. Augustus’ contrapposto stance and his bare feet make him seem more vulnerable, contrasting with his military garb and breastplate.

Use of Glassware and Terracotta in Roman Art

Glass and terracotta were two of the most popular materials used in Roman art. Glassware had been a popular aspect of Roman daily life, and it is no surprise that the material was utilized in art as well.

Glassmaking was well-established in the Roman Empire, and from the 1st century BCE, it became an element in luxury art pieces. Terracotta, on the other hand, was used more for creating figurines, smaller objects, and architectural components.

The fine-grain clay was molded and baked in a kiln to create decorative and functional pieces, such as animal figurines, vessels, and utensils.

Significance of Glass and Terracotta Amphorae

The Roman Empire was also famous for its use of amphorae for the storage and transport of goods like wine and olive oil. Amphorae were usually made of terracotta or glass, but the terracotta ones were more common.

These amphorae were usually decorated with elaborate designs, which sometimes had symbols associated with the contents. Glass amphorae were also made, but they were usually used for prestige items or for purely decorative purposes.

The glass used in the creation of these works was highly valued because of its beauty, clarity, and the technical skill needed to produce them.


Roman art and sculpture have a long and illustrious history that has evoked fascination and admiration from people throughout the ages. The Roman Empire was a force to reckon with, and their art and culture played a significant role in shaping their identity.

The use of materials such as marble, glass, and terracotta, produced some of the most beautiful and impressive works of art to date. Sculptures such as the Laocoon Group, the Marcus Aurelius Equestrian Statue, and

Augustus of Primaporta, continue to inspire and evoke wonder in all those that come across them.

Ivory Carving in Ancient Rome

Ivory carving was one of the most prestigious crafts in ancient Rome. Ivory was considered a luxury item, and it was used to create intricate sculptures and decorative pieces.

Ivory carving was quite an art form, and the expertise needed to produce these pieces shows the ingenuity and skill of the ancient Roman artisans. Ivory comes from elephant tusks, and this makes it a valuable commodity.

Ivory was imported from Africa, India, and other parts of the world. During the Roman Empire, ivory was often used to create works of art that celebrated the power and influence of the Empire.

The art of ivory carving reached its peak during the later Roman Empire (4th to 5th centuries AD). Ivory sculptures of gods and goddesses were produced, and these were often adorned with precious stones, gold, and silver.

Examples of Roman Ivory Artworks

One of the most impressive examples of Roman ivory carving is the Barberini Ivory. The piece is believed to date back to the mid-sixth century CE and portrays the emperor Justinian in the center with soldiers surrounding him.

The intricate details of the carving and the composition of the piece make it a masterpiece of ancient Roman art. Another impressive ivory carving is the Throne of Maximian, which was produced in the early 4th century.

The throne was made of ivory and decorated with precious stones. The intricate designs included various scenes from Roman mythology.

Other notable examples of Roman ivory carving include the diptychs, which were made up of two ivory panels hinged together. These were often decorated with religious scenes, and they served as gifts to honor important officials or commemorate significant occasions.

Architectural Innovation in Ancient Rome

The Romans were famous for their engineering prowess, and this was evident in their architectural structures. The Romans perfected innovations such as arches, vaults, and domes, which allowed them to create massive and impressive monuments that still stand to today.

The Roman arch was one of the most significant architectural innovations of the time. It allowed the Romans to create massive structures such as aqueducts, bridges, and amphitheaters.

The arch relieved the horizontal pressure of stones and transferred it vertically from one stone to another until the pressure was directed to the ground. Another notable architectural innovation by the Romans was the use of vaults.

Vaults were used to create ceilings and domes, which provided structural stability to buildings. The use of vaults allowed the Romans to create massive spaces that would have been impossible using traditional building techniques.

Notable Roman Architectural Structures and Their Features

The Roman Colosseum

The Roman Colosseum is one of the most identified and celebrated Roman architectural structures. It was built around 70-80 AD, and it was used for gladiator fights and other performances.

The Colosseum could hold up to 50,000 spectators, and it took over ten years to complete. The Colosseum was built with travertine, a limestone rock that was native to the region.

It was also the first permanent structure that had more advanced seating systems with staggered levels and curved rows. This allowed the spectators to have a full view of the arena without obstruction.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon is another remarkable architectural structure built by the Romans. It was built between 118 to 125 AD, and it was used as a temple dedicated to all the gods in Rome.

The Pantheon’s dome is considered one of the most impressive feats of engineering in history. The dome was made using a combination of the arch and the vault.

It was constructed using Roman concrete, which is durable and allowed for such substantial structures to exist.

The Pantheon also had a unique oculus at the top of the dome, which served both as a decorative and functional piece that allowed light to pass through the building.

The Circus Maximus

The Circus Maximus was another impressive architectural structure built by the Romans. It was primarily used for chariot races and could hold up to 250,000 spectators.

The Circus Maximus was unique in that it had no fixed seating, and spectators sat on the grassy slopes surrounding the track.

The Circus Maximus had an elliptical shape with two long straight sides and rounded ends known as the “spina.” The track was made of packed sand, and the chariots raced around it. The building had several entrances, making it easy for the spectators to enter and exit quickly.


Roman art and architecture were revolutionary in their time and have continued to impress people throughout history. The Romans were engineering innovators, and their structures pushed the limits of what was possible at the time.

From the use of arches and vaults to the Colosseum and the Pantheon, they created impressive monuments that still inspire admiration and wonder today. Ivory carving was equally remarkable and showcased the artistic skill and expertise of ancient Roman artisans.

The intricate detail and craftsmanship of the ivory sculptures produced remain a testament to the Romans’ influence and the art world.

Evolution and Styles of Roman Painting

Roman painting evolved over time and was heavily influenced by Greek and Hellenistic art. Initially, Roman painting was based on Greek painting styles, but eventually, it developed its unique characteristics and themes.

In the early period of the Roman Republic, wall paintings were simple and mainly decorative. They were often based on Greek models and focused on creating an illusion of three-dimensional space.

Architectural elements such as columns and arches were commonly featured in these paintings. As the Roman Empire grew in power and wealth, so did the sophistication and diversity of Roman painting.

The evolution of Roman painting can be seen through its different styles. One of the earliest Roman painting styles is known as the First Style, or the Masonry Style.

This style imitated the appearance of stone or marble walls using painted colors and architectural details. It aimed to create a sense of architectural grandeur within interior spaces.

The Second Style, known as the Architectural Style, emerged in the 2nd century BCE. This style involved the use of trompe-l’oeil painting techniques to create the illusion of a three-dimensional space.

It featured realistic architectural elements, landscapes, and scenes from mythology. The Third Style, known as the Ornate Style, appeared in the late 1st century BCE.

This style focused more on delicate and intricate ornamentation rather than architectural grandeur. It often incorporated delicate floral and plant motifs, intricate scrollwork, and mythological figures.

The Fourth Style, known as the Intricate Style, emerged in the 1st century CE. This style combined elements from the preceding styles and embraced a more eclectic approach.

It included architectural elements, realistic landscapes, mythological scenes, and intricate decorative details.

Famous Roman Paintings and Their Themes

The House of the Vettii, located in Pompeii, provides remarkable examples of Roman wall paintings. The villa is known for its lavish decoration and its various painted rooms.

One of the most well-known frescoes in the house is the “Ixion Room.” This room features a mythological painting depicting the punishment of Ixion, who was sentenced to eternal torture for attempting to seduce Hera, the wife of Zeus. Another famous Roman painting is the “Ara Pacis Augustae” or the “Altar of Augustan Peace.” This painting is located on the inside of the Ara Pacis, a monument dedicated to Pax, the Roman goddess of peace.

The painting depicts various scenes, including the procession of members of the imperial family, priests, and senators. The purpose of this painting was to celebrate the peace and prosperity brought by the reign of Emperor Augustus.

Mosaic Art in Ancient Rome

Mosaic art was another significant form of artistic expression in ancient Rome. Mosaics were created by arranging small pieces of colored stone, glass, or tile called tesserae, to create intricate patterns, images, or scenes.

Mosaics were used for decorative purposes on floors, walls, and even ceilings. The subjects of Roman mosaics were diverse and varied.

They ranged from simple geometric patterns to intricate mythological scenes, portraits, and everyday life. Mosaics were used to depict historical events, religious symbolism, and scenes from Greek and Roman mythology.

The Alexander Mosaic and Its Significance

One of the most famous Roman mosaics is the Alexander Mosaic, which was discovered in the House of the Faun in Pompeii. The mosaic is believed to date back to the 1st century BCE and depicts the Battle of Issus between Alexander the Great and the Persian king Darius III.

The Alexander Mosaic is renowned for its intricate detail, precise composition, and realistic portrayal of figures in action. It captures the intensity of the battle, with soldiers, horses, and chariots engaged in combat.

The mosaic showcases the mastery of the artist in creating a lifelike representation of movement and expression, despite the medium’s inherent limitations. The Alexander Mosaic is significant not only for its artistic excellence but also because it provides valuable insight into the military tactics and equipment used during the time of Alexander the Great.

It offers a window into the world of ancient warfare and serves as a historical record of this pivotal event.


Roman painting and mosaic art played essential roles in ancient Rome’s artistic and cultural heritage. The evolution of Roman painting styles showcased the Romans’ ingenuity in adapting and innovating upon the artistic traditions of their predecessors.

The famous Roman paintings, such as those found in the House of the Vettii and the Ara Pacis Augustae, depicted a range of themes, from mythology to historical events, celebrating both the gods and the accomplishments of the Roman Empire. Mosaic art, on the other hand, displayed the mastery of the Romans in the intricate arrangement of tesserae to create mesmerizing patterns and lifelike scenes.

The Alexander Mosaic stands as a testament to the artistry and skill of ancient Roman mosaicists and provides valuable insights into the military history of the time. Together, these forms of art serve as a testament to the creativity, craftsmanship, and cultural significance of ancient Roman art, showcasing the ingenuity and artistic expression that have fascinated and captivated audiences throughout history.

In conclusion, Roman art encompassed a wide array of artistic forms, including sculpture, painting, mosaic, and ivory carving. Influenced by Greek art and culture, Roman artists developed their unique styles while incorporating elements from conquered lands.

The evolution of Roman painting showcased the development of different styles, from the imitation of Greek models to the ornate and intricate compositions seen in later periods. Famous Roman paintings depicted mythological themes, celebrated the power of the Empire, and portrayed historical events.

Mosaic art, with its intricate tesserae arrangements, showcased the Romans’ skill and creativity. The Alexander Mosaic, in particular, exemplified the mastery of mosaic art, providing insights into ancient warfare.

Overall, Roman art remains an enduring testament to the cultural richness and creative achievements of the ancient Roman civilization, captivating audiences and leaving a lasting impression with its exquisite beauty and historical significance.

Popular Posts