Art History Lab

The Enduring Influence of Rome: A Journey Through Art and History

Rome has been labeled “The Eternal City” by many since ancient times. This nickname was used by the Roman poet Tibullus to emphasize the city’s perseverance and continuity in a changing world.

The Urbs Aeterna has indeed lived up to its name, as its history spans over two and a half thousand years. Roman mythology tells the story of how Romulus, the first king of Rome, founded the city in 753 BC.

He and his twin brother, Remus, were abandoned as infants and raised by a she-wolf. As adults, they decided to establish a city on the banks of the Tiber River, but an argument ensued, leading to Remus’ death.

This legend portrays the pivotal moment in Rome’s founding and the loyalty it required from its citizens towards their leader. However, another myth suggests that Aeneas, a Trojan hero, was the true founder of Rome.

He arrived on the Italian peninsula following the fall of Troy and eventually became the ancestor of Rome’s first emperor, Augustus. This legend highlights the connection between the great city and an illustrious past.

Despite the divergence in these two myths, they both reinforce the idea that Rome was founded through great sacrifice and struggle. Although Romans had different beliefs about their creation, they were united in their pride in the rich cultural heritage of the city.

Roman sculpture and artwork borrowed heavily from the Greeks. When the Roman Empire conquered Greece, they imported large numbers of Greek works of arts, including sculptures, paintings, and architectural design.

This introduced many Roman artists to Greek style and technique, and their pieces reflect a fusion of Greek and Roman influence. The Romans also aimed to create work that served a more public function.

In contrast to the Greeks, who created much of their art for the domestic or private domain. The Romans wanted their art to educate, commemorate or commemorate their history or important events.

Examples of their public art include triumphal arches, with Romans inscribing the names of conquerors and the cities subjugated. The Etruscans, another Italic people, influenced many aspects of Rome’s art style, including mortuary sculptures, tomb paintings, and pottery.

Many experts believe that the influence of Etruscan art was fundamental to the development of Roman architecture. Between 753 BC and 27 BC, Rome matured from a small Italian Kingdom to an immense empire that encompassed much of the Mediterranean world.

It all began with the Etruscan civilization, who lived in central Italy, including the area that is now Rome. The Etruscans build Rome’s first structures, such as houses with tiled roofs and arches.

The first Roman Republic continued to develop the city, and it was during this time that Rome became the center of political and military force in Italy. In the first era of the Roman Empire, the Roman Republic transitioned into a centralized state ruled by an autocratic emperor, and this period has been dubbed the Principate.

Augustus, Rome’s first emperor, created a new era of peace and prosperity in his empire that continued for almost two centuries. This era is characterized by impressive building projects, including the famous Colosseum, and monumental public works, such as aqueducts, which enabled the city’s water distribution network.

In conclusion, Rome’s history has been shaped by various events, from its mythical founding to becoming an economic and cultural center of the ancient world. Roman art has influenced many other artists throughout history and continues to be a source of inspiration.

The intermingling of Greek, Etruscan, and Italic cultures has created a unique art form that persists to this day. The Eternal City may have changed and evolved over the years, but its allure and rich history remain ever-present.

The excavation of the cities Pompeii and Herculaneum has provided a wealth of knowledge about Roman paintings from the first century AD. Herculaneum, along with Pompeii, was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, which covered the cities in ash and preserved artwork in a way that would have otherwise been lost.

The paintings discovered in these cities provide insight into how Roman art changed throughout the years between the third and first century AD. The first-century Pompeii frescoes showcase four styles of Roman painting: the incrustation style, the architectural style, the ornate style, and the intricate style.

The first style, known as the incrustation style, was produced around 200 BC and it involved using paint to imitate fine stonework. This technique originated from Greek Early Classical art.

The second style, known as the architectural style, was produced in the late Republic and early Empire periods, from about 50 BC to 50 AD. The style features elaborate architecture in illusionistic pageantry, often with mythological themes depicted.

These paintings incorporate trompe-l’oeil, an illusionistic technique where areas appear to be in three dimensions, including columns and openings. It was popular throughout the Roman Empire and influenced many artists throughout Europe following the Renaissance.

The ornate style, also known as the Second Pompeian style, was produced in the period of Augustus (27 BC 14 AD) and is characterized by highly decorative elements. The brightly colored paintings feature complex patterns and motifs that include floral designs and repeating geometric shapes, and often used a gold background to represent luxury and wealth.

The intricate style is the final Roman style, also known as the Third Pompeian style, and was produced in the Imperial period (27 BC to 476 AD). It is characterized by intricate details, such as miniature landscapes, elaborately decorated columns, and tiny figures.

This style primarily used pastel colors to evoke a sense of overall softness and light, though brighter colors were sometimes used to create emphasis. Roman architecture is renowned for its vast engineering achievements, and something that allowed for this was the development of concrete.

With this Roman innovation, engineers could create arches and domes of enormous scale and consequently construct large public infrastructure projects, including aqueducts, roads, and bridges. As Rome became more powerful, the architectural revolution allowed the city to build grand public buildings that expressed the might of the Roman Empire.

One of the most famous examples of Roman architecture is the Colosseum, known today as a symbol of the immense power and engineering capability of the ancient Rome. The Colosseum was built between 70 AD and 80 AD.

Initially, it was called the Flavian Amphitheatre to honor the Flavian Dynasty who built the structure. It was the largest amphitheater in the Roman world and held up to 80,000 spectators.

The structure was built of concrete and sand to provide stability, a valuable quality in Rome’s earthquake-prone region. The Colosseum displayed theatrical performances, gladiator games, animal hunts, and public executions, and became an icon for the Roman civilization.

Another lasting example of Roman architecture is the Pantheon, one of the most significant architectural achievements of the Roman age. The Pantheon was built under Emperor Hadrian in 117-138 AD and is renowned for its dome, which was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world.

The ceiling of the dome is adorned with a coffered covering with an oculus, an opening that allows light to filter in. In conclusion, Roman art and architecture were tremendously influential throughout the ancient world and beyond.

The excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum provide a wealth of knowledge showing how art evolved over time in the ancient city. Roman architecture’s innovation of concrete provided a solid foundation for grand buildings, monuments, and public infrastructure.

Today, examples such as the Colosseum or the Pantheon continue to inspire, marvel and reflect the immense power and largest scale of engineering the Roman civilization achieved. Roman sculpture is renowned for its realistic portrayal of human anatomy.

Portraiture was crucial in ancient Rome as it served as a means of documenting the likeness of prominent individuals of noble birth. These sculptures were viewed as immortalizing the subject’s physical appearance and their achievements during their lifetime.

Roman sculptors aimed to create a perfect representation of their subjects using a naturalistic approach, unlike the idealized approach of ancient Greek sculpture. Examples of Roman sculpture include portrait busts, Trajan’s column, Column of Marcus Aurelius, and the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius.

The Romans revolutionized the creation of the portrait bust, a sculpture that portrays someone’s head, neck, and shoulders. These sculptures range in size, material, and level of detail.

The marble portrait busts were made by copying a cast of the subject’s face, a technique known as verism that showed age, but also depicted facial blemishes, wrinkles, scars, and other distinguishing marks. Trajan’s column, named after Emperor Trajan, is a historical account of Trajan’s campaigns in Dacia (the region that is modern-day Romania) during the years AD 101106.

Standing at an impressive 128 feet (38 m), the column’s narrative includes over 2,500 carved figures, 155 scenes, and 700 words. The intricate detail was designed to glorify the people and events depicted.

The Column of Marcus Aurelius, erected in 193 AD, was also built to mark successful military campaigns. The column bears a spiral relief that depicts the emperor as both a successful military leader and a benefactor to the people.

This column also shows detailed architectural features that reflect the imperial power and architectural ingenuity that characterize Roman art. The Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius is an enormous bronze statue of the emperor on horseback.

The statue sits on top of the Capitoline Hill in Rome, overlooking the city. The statue was moved to this location from the forum of Marcus Aurelius in the late 16th century and has served as a distinctive symbol of Rome for centuries.

The Western Roman Empire slowly declined from the third century AD, facing economic, military, and political obstacles. As the empire became more vulnerable, Germanic tribes, such as the Visigoths and the Vandals, attacked and sacked Rome in 410 AD and 455 AD, respectively.

In 476 AD, the emperor was forced to abdicate, and the Western Roman Empire dissolved. As the Western Roman Empire weakened, the Eastern Roman Empire, also known as the Byzantine Empire, continued to flourish in its Eastern part.

Byzantine art, therefore, developed its own unique style, the art historians call it “the art of the Eastern Roman Empire” or Eastern Roman art. Byzantine art was visually religious, with its primary goal of glorifying Christianity.

This art form made use of images that represented religious figures and stories, typically displaying a particular ceremonial context, such as icons, illuminated manuscripts, and mosaics. Byzantine artists made use of gold backgrounds that created depth and light, with richly colored robes that stood out from the background, creating a vibrant, almost ethereal effect.

In conclusion, the Eastern and Western Roman Empires became different entities at distinct points in their history. Nonetheless, their influence has endured and been a touchstone for art historians and art lovers over the centuries.

Roman sculpture remains a testimony to the perfection of art during that era, while Byzantine’s art forms represent a striking contrast to the style of Roman art. Both are unique and fascinating in their respective ways.

In conclusion, Roman history, art, architecture, sculpture, and the rise and fall of the Western Roman Empire are important topics that continue to captivate scholars and enthusiasts alike. From Rome’s mythical founding to its development into the center of a vast empire, the Eternal City has left an indelible mark on the world.

Roman artwork, influenced by Greek and Etruscan civilizations, showcases a blend of styles and techniques, while their architecture, exemplified by structures like the Colosseum and the Pantheon, demonstrates an extraordinary engineering prowess. Roman sculpture, especially portraiture, immortalizes individuals with a remarkable realism.

As the Western Roman Empire declined, the Eastern Roman Empire, also known as Byzantium, developed its own distinct art style. Petrified in ash, Pompeii and Herculaneum reveal the evolution of Roman painting.

These topics not only provide fascinating insights into ancient Roman civilization but also continue to inspire and impact art and architecture to this day. Rome’s rich cultural heritage reminds us of the enduring power of art and the significance of preserving history for future generations to appreciate.

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