Characteristics of Roman Art
Rome became the center of cultural activity in the Mediteranean area at the time of the Third Punic War (146 B.C.) and remained so until the fourth century A.D. While foreign ideas were brought to Rome by its victorious armies and by commercial enterpise, native Roman influences spread throughout Europe and the rest of the world from the republican period through the day of the extended Roman Empire. The synthesis of foreign and Hellenic factors of the Hellenistic period continued throughout the Graeco Roman period, until pagan Roman art was ultimately superseded by the Christian iconography and new forms adapted to the changing social, political, and economic situation of the medieval world. Despite the use and transformation of certain Greek elements. Roman art developed as a new source of artistic creativity, much more progressive than the conservative Greek. The diversity of its forms and its variety inspired the modern attitude in art.
It was through the agency of Roman art that the heritage of the classical world was preserved throughout the Middle Ages for the modern world. The single most important contribution of Rome to the history of art lies in its architectural engineering. Of all the historical styles of architecture, the Roman is nearest to the modern point of view and function in its utilitarianism, its massiveness and magnificence, and its production of a great variety of types which have proved capable of adaption to the needs of other civilizations, both contemporary with Rome and of later times. In further contrast to other ancient styles of architecture, the Romans first conceived interior space as an important element in architecture and the use of the true arch and vault as an aesthetic and structural principle.
The great buildings of Rome were made possible by the development of new engineering principles (including the use of the true arch, the vault, and the dome) and new materials such as concrete. Rome was the only one of the ancient civilizations to develop a monumental secular architecture as well as large scale civil engineering project, paved roads, bridges, aqueducts, tunnels, sewers, and canals.
Triumphal arches, memorial columns, baths (Thermae of Caracalla), basilicas, amphitheaters (Colosseum), warehouses, forums, circuses, stadiums, palaces (such as the palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spolatro in Dalmatia), the houses and shops of Pompeii, and tall apartment buildings (as at Ostia) are still extant. So, too, are some of the purely utilitarian engineering projects which give a clear picture of the aspect of the ancient Roman city.
Roman temples were relatively unimportant, except for the domed and vaulted Pantheon in Rome and a few circular temples such as the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli.The latter maw derive from the huts of prehistoric Latium which were well adapted to the sacred rites of the hearth goddess, Vesta always popular in Rome, although there were a few Greek circular temples in the Hellenistic period which may have directly influences the plan. Directional temples were usually Greek in plan but modified to meet certain Etruscan architectural traditions such as the use of the podium. Roman structural devices were employed, however, as was the Roman aesthetic preference for the purely decorative use of the Greek orders ( for example the combination of the Ionic volute and Corinthianacanthus capitals into the “ Composite” order) and for strict frontality of design because of the temples urban location.
Owing to the preference of Roman art patrons for the collection and importation of original Greek works of art and the employment of Greek artists to decorate Roman homes and public buildings, much Roman sculpture was in the florid Hellenistic manner of the “Farnese Bull” and the “Laokoon” group. But not all the works of the Roman characteristics appeared. In the development of a masterly portrait tradition and in the narrative presentation and purpose of the historical, commemorative reliefs, such as the Arch of Titus with its decorations of nine column of the campaigns in Judaea.The column of Trajan and the Antonine Column of Marcus Aurelius used continuous spiral bands of relief sculpture to explicate the heroic deeds of the Roman military leaders in the north. This narrative tradition continued and developed the Christian iconography of the medieval style. The tendency toward realism in Roman portraiture may stem from an early prohibition, the Ius Imaginum, forbidding the representation of men of the plebeian class; therefore, an identifiable likeness of the patrician wan essential.
The pictorial arts reflected more than any other of the arts the Roman taste in the classical world and the peculiarly Roman outlook in art. Like all art of the late Hellenistic period, Roman pictorial arts were highly eclectic; elements were borrowed from the Greeks, the Egyptian, and the Etruscans. But the Romans developed the atmospheric treatment of space in the illusionistic style of the wall paintings at Pompeii in contrast to the Hellenic two dimensionality and disinterest in background. The choice of secular subject matter was also typically Roman. The tradition of realism noted in portrait sculpture is apparent in the painted mummy portraits from the Fayum. The “Aldobrandini Wedding” nosaic and such manuscript illuminations as the Vatican Vergil observed the same spatial conventions as the mural paintings.