Roman Art

Roman Art – A Brief Study of the History of Ancient Roman Art

Just as Greece is known as the “cradle” or “birthplace” of our Western world or civilization, in almost equal regard, Rome is known as the “Capital of the World”, otherwise Caput Mundi in Latin. Rome is the capital of Italy and the region of Lazio (also known as Latium). Roman artwork is as diverse as Roman culture, ranging from paintings, sculpture, architecture, mosaics, glasswork, metalwork, among many others. This article will explore the characteristics of Roman Art and just how this once small Italian settlement grew into the Caput Mundi.   



The Eternal City: A Brief Look at Roman History

It was the Roman poet Tibullus who described Rome as “The Eternal City” (Urbs Aeterna) during the 1st Century BC. The sentiment behind this endearing term came from the steadfast belief in Rome as a city, and her capability to endure and survive any war or hardship.

We will find this appellation in Tibullus’s Elegies (2.5, 23-24), referencing the myth of how Rome was found by two twin brothers, Romulus and Remus: “Romulus aeternae nondum formaverat urbis moenia, consorti non habitanda Remo.” (This is translated from Latin to “Romulus had not yet built the walls of the eternal city where his brother Remus was not to live in partnership”).

Rome Arts The Brothers, Disputing Over the Founding of Rome, Consult the Augurs, pl.7 from the series The Story of Romulus and Remus (1575) by Giovanni Battista Fontana; Giovanni Battista Fontana, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

It was not only one poet who bolstered the city’s splendor, but others like Virgil, a now eternalized Roman poet, who wrote about Rome’s inception in his Aeneid (29 BC-19 BC), an epic poem about the Trojan hero Aeneas and the founding of Rome. Rome is described by the god Jupiter as “imperium sine fine”, which translates to “empire without end”.

The founding of Rome and its name is a widely debated topic, however, one of the more popular origin stories or founding myths is of Romulus and Remus mentioned above (who are also believed to descend from Aeneas).

It was believed that the two brothers were orphaned and left for dead by the Tiber River by Amulius, their uncle and King of Alba Longa, who also took over the throne from his brother, Numitor. They were found and nursed by a female wolf and eventually found by Faustulus, a shepherd from the area, who gave them a home. When the twin brothers were adults, they learned about their history and murdered Amulius, re-enthroned Numitor, and set out to build a new city along the River Tiber.

However, historical myths indicate that Romulus murdered his brother and set out to build Rome himself. There are different reasons as to why he killed his brother. Some are more common than others, for example, the two brothers disagreed about the location of the city along the River Tiber, which led to Romulus killing Remus.

When we think of Rome, we think of the Colosseum, grand architectural establishments, marble sculptures, including famous ancient Roman poets like Virgil or Ovid. Most Roman artwork is derived from the preceding Greek and Etruscan civilizations. Although there is so much more to the origins of Rome, below, we will take a brief look at the timeline of its development into a Caput Mundi, so to say.

Roman Artwork Map Model of what ancient Rome looked like; Woeterman 94, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


The Etruscans (900 BC – 27 BC)

Not much is left from the Etruscan civilization, but what is known is that this culture initially started in prominent cities like Florence and Pisa in Tuscany. The civilization’s location was mostly around the Italian peninsula in Tuscany, Lazio, and Umbria. The Etruscans also traded with the Greeks, Egyptians, and Phoenicians, due to their locations around the Mediterranean.

The Villanovan culture (c. 900 BC–700 BC) is believed to have been the first culture right before the development of the Etruscan culture, which was eventually overtaken by Rome as it grew in power. It is important to place Rome within context, as during this period Rome was no more than a small settlement further south of the Italian Peninsula.

During 600 BC, Rome was overtaken by the Etruscan monarchy, partly because of the placement of the city (Rome) on the River Tiber and the surrounding hills, which were ideal for defenses. The Etruscan kings ruling Rome were called the Tarquinii.

Rome was greatly influenced by many cultural developments from Etruria and essentially, the Greeks.

Some of the more notable influences include the development of sewerage and drainage, agricultural irrigation, architectural designs, engineering, building temples, gladiatorial games (which were originally a religious game for the Etruscans), as well as painting and sculpture.


The Roman Kingdom (753 BC – 509 BC)

While the Etruscans were absorbed by the Romans, Rome’s form of government was a monarchy. The city had seven kings who ruled until Rome became a Republic. The first king was Romulus (reigning from 753-717 BC), the founder, and the second was Numa Pompilius (reigning from 716-673 BC), who reigned during a peaceful period in Rome’s development and built various religious establishments, such as a temple dedicated to the Roman god Janus.

Tullus Hostilius (reigning from 673-642 BC) was the third king. He was more aggressive in his reign and took over the city of Alba Longa. The fourth king was Ancus Marcius (reigning from 640-616 BC), the grandson to Numa. He re-established certain religious orders and won the war against the Latins and Sabines.

The fifth king was Lucius Tarquinius Priscus (reigning from 616-579 BC), who was also the first Etruscan king. He invaded and overpowered the Etruscan tribes in war and as a result, he also increased the number of senators. He built the Roman Forum and various other buildings like the Temple dedicated to Jupiter. Furthermore, he also appropriated Etruscan military accessories for use in the Roman military.

Roman Art of Ruler Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, the fifth King of Rome from 616 BC to 579 BCE, 16th-century depiction published by Guillaume Rouillé; Published by Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Servius Tullius (reigning from 578-535 BC) was the sixth king, and it was he who waged war and won against the Etruscans. He introduced new voting rights for more select groups within Rome and constructed the temple dedicated to the goddess Diana. He was assassinated by his younger daughter, Tullia, and her husband Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, who became the seventh Roman king, reigning from 535-509 BC.

Lucius warred against several cities and was more infamous as a king, as he was known for being aggressive and disrespectful. The King was overthrown after his son raped the daughter of a Roman nobleman, Lucretia, after which she died by suicide. The expulsion of the king and his family from Rome (due to Lucretia’s rape) marked the end of the Roman monarchy.


The Roman Republic (509 BC – 27 BC)

The Roman Republic developed a new governmental system where there were two consuls or magistracies with the senate as the overseeing body of authority. The two consuls worked on an annual basis, which meant that two new consuls were elected each year.

The consuls had authority within military and civilian matters, and were able to object or agree to what the other was doing. This system ensured the prevention of the tyrrany that was commonplace during the Roman monarchy, as this way, the power does not belong to just one person. 

The Republican period saw various civil wars and political upheavals, where Julius Caesar, a Roman general, became dictator with the aim to eventually unify Rome again. Caesar was assassinated during 44 BC by several senators who felt he was a risk to Rome. Octavius, also known as Augustus, was Caesar’s adopted nephew and heir, and it was he who eventually started the Roman Empire.


The Roman Empire (27 BC – 476 BC)

The Roman Empire was the beginning of a new period in Rome, and at the lead as the Principate, was Caesar Augustus (otherwise known and born as Gaius Octavius or Octavian). He is remembered as a significant leader in Roman history and ruled during a period that was more peaceful than most of Rome’s development. This period is referred to as Pax Romana (“Roman Peace”), and it lasted for almost 200 years.

Political Rome Arts Copper engraving of Octavianus Caesar Augustus by Giovanni Battista de’Cavalieri. The text below reads “Divus Augustus Pater”, meaning “Father Caesar Augustus”; Giovanni Battista de’Cavalieri, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Fall of the Roman Empire happened over the years 376 to 476 BC and consisted of the gradual degradation of various political, economic, and social systems. It is a widely debated topic about what events caused the decline of this great civilization. What led after the Fall of Rome was the period in Western history referred to as the Dark Ages. It is also important to note that Rome was divided into the Western and Eastern parts. The Eastern division was ruled by Constantin the Great and known as Byzantium, which was later named Constantinople.



Roman Artwork

Ancient Roman art was not completely original in its production; the Romans were influenced by the Etruscans and Greeks before them, as mentioned earlier. The complex interrelations between different cities, cultures, and countries (Africa, Asia, Europe, and Egypt) makes this a rich area and topic of discussion within Roman artwork. Below, we will discuss some of the characteristics of Roman Art, specifically Roman Republic art and Roman Empire art.


Roman Paintings

While there is not a large collection of ancient Roman paintings, the best collection of ancient Roman art came from the remains of Pompeii and Herculaneum. When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, it buried and preserved all sorts of Roman artwork including magnificent murals (wall paintings) painted to decorate the interiors. The murals were largely done as frescoes.

The German archaeologist, August Mau, started excavating the Pompeii remains during the 1800s and developed four classifications for the various styles of wall paintings found. It is also worth noting that these styles occurred in other parts of Rome. Let us discuss them briefly below.


First Style: Incrustation Style

The Incrustation Style developed from around 200 to 80 BCE and is believed to have derived from Hellenistic culture. This style was also called the Masonry Style. It depicted mostly rectangular or brick-like shapes of paint that appeared like marble. It was painted in bright colors like yellow or red, connected with stucco in-between, which also gave it a raised appearance. Examples depicting this style can be found in two houses in Pompeii, namely, the House of the Faun and the House of Sallust.

Roman Art Decor Frescoes in the first style, from the Casa di Sallustio (‘House of Sallust’) in Pompei; August Mau (?), died 1909, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Second Style: Architectural Style

The Architectural Style occurred around 80 BCE to 100 CE. This style still utilized the imitation of marble blocks, however, there was an increase of illusionistic detail using architectural elements (creating illusionistic detail is referred to as trompe-l’oeilI). Paintings would appear three-dimensional with some areas appearing real, but not. Some walls also had life-sized figures depicted on them, which enhanced the sense of realism and three-dimensionality. Examples of this style are seen in the fresco in the bedroom of Villa of P. Fannius Synistor (50-40 BCE) and the Dionysiac Frieze (dated prior to 79 CE) from the Villa of Mysteries.

Roman Artwork Frieze depicting Silenus holding a lyre (left), demigod Pan and a nymph sitting on a rock and nursing a goat (center), and a woman with a coat (right). Fresco from the Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii, Italy; Unknown author Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Third Style: Ornate Style

The Ornate Style occurred around 10 BCE to 50 CE. This style also depicted similar architectural elements from the Second Style, but paintings depicted more decorative motifs often with monochromatic colors (reds or blacks), which made it appear flatter rather than three-dimensional. The different motifs utilized took inspiration from florals and the natural environment. They also depicted images and scenes from Egypt. Examples of this style are seen in the Villa Agrippa Postumus (c. 10 BC).

Ancient Roman Art Fresco of human figures and animals in an idyllic rural landscape with sacral buildings and statues, from the third style of Pompeian wall painting; ArchaiOptix, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Fourth Style: “Intricate Style”

The Intricate Style occurred from 60 to 79 CE. This style is often described as being a combination of the above-mentioned three styles. It depicted the imitation of marble, the architectural details of painting, as well as the ornamentation of the more decorative Third Style. The subject matter also became more diverse, depicting not only natural scenes of the landscapes, but also mythological themes and figures, as well as the inclusion of still lives.

An example of this style is seen in the House of the Vettii, which was a large townhouse with numerous detailed ancient Roman paintings decorating the walls in each room. A famous example is in the Ixion Room, featuring multiple panels of various figures and architectural details that make each panel appear as if it is part of the real environment.

Roman Paintings Ixion Room in the House of Vettii, painted in the fourth style by Giacomo Brogi; Giacomo Brogi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Roman Architecture

When thinking of Roman architecture there is usually one building that stands out, one we are all familiar with and, one that is truly eternalized in epic films and literature: the Colosseum. However, this is not the only prominent piece of architecture designed by the Romans.

In fact, Roman architecture introduced new and innovative designs and building materials that would shape the future of architecture for centuries to come.

The Romans constructed various types of buildings ranging from temples to buildings suited for entertainment purposes, like the famous Colosseum, in the shape of an amphitheater. Houses ranged from farmhouses (villas) to apartment blocks (insulae) in more populated urban areas (much like our 21st Century urban living style). The Romans also innovated the building of baths and aqueducts, which allowed clean water into the city.


The Roman Architectural Revolution

The Roman Architectural Revolution occurred as a result of the important discoveries made in using building materials like concrete, around and between the 1st Century BC to 3rd Century BC. What is referred to as “Roman concrete”, or opus caementicium, was made from a new building material called “pozzolana” (volcanic ash). This was added to the mortar already used by the Romans to make it stronger, with the ability to set underwater.

This revolution was also referred to as the “Concrete Revolution” and enabled more effective systems for using the arch, leading to building developments in the vault and dome building shapes. A notable example of this was the Groin Vault, developed by the Romans. This consisted of two Barrel Vaults (Barrel Vaults are in the basic shape of a domed arch) joining or intersecting at two right angles.

The Roman architect Vitruvius is also worth noting and knowing in Roman architectural history. Vitruvius was an architect, engineer, and author of the seminal work called De Architectura (“On Architecture”, c. 30-15 BCE). This text (as much theoretical as it was practical) was dedicated to Emperor Augustus and explored Vitruvius’ observations about the nature of architecture as well as its history.

Architecture in Rome Arts De Architectura by Vitruvius, first English translation, based on the French translation by Claude Perrault, printed by Abel Swall and T. Child, 1692; Georges Jansoone (JoJan), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Republican Roman Architecture

Some examples from the Republican Period in Roman architecture include the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus (c. 150 BC). This was one of the first architectural constructions in Rome and would influence many other structures due to its design and layout. Its completion date was around 509 BCE, the same time at which the Republican period began and the monarchy came to an end.

Located on Capitoline Hill, this temple is situated on a podium (giving it considerable height). The porch’s (pronaos) depth spans three columns with six columns at the frontal edge of the porch, which also offers the only entrance into the building. The interior of the temple is divided into three rooms (cellae) – this type of layout is referred to as “tripartite” due to the three-way split.

Famous Roman Empire Art Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus (c. 150 BC); Rijksmuseum, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Architecture during this period was influenced by the type of architectural structures from the Etruscan period, as well as the Greek period. An influential example from the Etruscan period includes the Temple of Minerva (c. 510 BC). Here, we notice the deep-set porch with columns leading into the temple structure.

Other examples from the Roman Republican period include the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia (c. late 2nd Century) located in the now-modern Palestrina (Praeneste is the name of the ancient city). The large complex is divided into two structures, the one upper and the other lower. The upper section is part of a hillside with various other structures, including the temple.

Roman Empire Art Reconstruction of the Temple of Fortuna Primigenia at Palestrina by Pietro da Cortona; Pietro da Cortona, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Temple of Portunus (c. 120-80 BCE) is another example. This is a temple in a rectangular shape, located in Rome near the main harbor area near the Forum Boarium. Here, we see the deep-set front porch again, with two columns in-depth, and four columns lining the front edge of the porch. The columns are in the Ionic Order style. Along the outer sides of the temple, there are five columns and another four along the back end of the temple (the same as the front side).

Architectural structures, especially temples, were usually constructed as monumental offerings, especially in the Forum Boarium where there would have been more people and events due to its location near the harbor. This temple was believed to be dedicated to Portunus, a Roman god of harbors, gates (keys), and livestock.


Imperial Roman Architecture

Imperial Roman architecture experimented more with newly found building materials like concrete. It was used not only for structural purposes but also aesthetic purposes, which is evident in the vaulted arches of the Markets of Trajan (106-12 CE).

The Markets of Trajan was a part of the Forum of Trajan, dedicated to the emperor Trajan. This was also the last Roman forum built as part of the Roman fora (the plural word for forum). Forums were large structures for public gatherings and rituals. This one was designed by the architect Apollodorus of Damascus.

Roman Empire Art and Architecture Forum of Trajan in Rome; Jan Hazevoet, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Colosseum (72-80 CE) is among the most famous Roman architectural creations. Its location is in the center of the city of Rome. Construction was started by the Roman Emperor Vespasian and ended with his son, Titus. It was originally called the Flavian Amphitheater (due to the emperors being of Flavian descent).

The Colosseum is an elaborate construction of architectural design and was built for the Romans as a gift. Some of the main activities that took place were gladiatorial games and animal fight shows. It was able to seat over 50 000 attendees and measures 620 x 513 feet. There are 80 entrances designed as archways, each with an inscription of its number. The columns supporting the arches combine all three Classical Order styles (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian).

Roman Artwork of Architecture A drawing of the Colosseum by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, 1757; Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Another architectural structure, the Arch of Titus (c. 81 CE) was built to honor the emperor Titus and the victory over the Jewish-Roman war. The arch is located in Via Sacra in Rome and is 50-feet-high and 44-feet-wide. It depicts elaborate and decorative relief sculptures of the events of the Jewish-Roman war, in which Vespasian and Titus fought together. The arch also has columns in fluted and unfluted styles, and it was this arch that acted as inspiration for the design of the Arc de Triomphe (1806) in Paris.

The Pantheon (113-125 CE) is another monumental example of the innovations made in Roman architecture. This temple, or “dynastic sanctuary”, was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa in honor of Augustus. However, due to damage from fires in 110 CE, Emperor Trajan set out to rebuild it, but after his demise, Emperor Hadrian rebuilt it.

Roman Art and Architecture Engraving of the Pantheon in Rome, seen from the side, cut away to reveal the interior, 1553; Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The design of the Pantheon depicts a large, rounded structure with a rectangular front or portico. The portico has eight Corinthian-style columns along its edge and two sets of four columns that span its inner width to the entrance. The dome measures 142 feet in diameter and is made from concrete.

Inside the rotunda (the rounded part of the building) of the Pantheon, there is an oculus at the top tip of its dome (this was the only source of light to enter the building, along with the entrance) surrounded by coffered designs set in 28 divisions all the way around. Furthermore, what made this structure more unique was the use of unreinforced concrete.


Roman Sculpture

Roman sculpture was diverse in its range and typically done in marble or bronze. Many Roman sculptures were often depictions inspired by Etruscan and Greek sculptures. It was often believed the Romans copied these cultures and left no innovative originals of their own. Additionally, there was a demand for sculptures, which further drove the Romans to mass-produce.

This is a debated topic, but it should be noted that the Romans contributed more in terms of originality than might be believed.

Of the primary forms of Roman sculpture was portraiture. These were popular busts of important figures of the time, be it leaders or political figures. Many people would place these busts in the entrances of buildings for the public to see them. A characteristic trait among these portrait busts was the depiction of realism in the figure. Some would appear with all their “imperfections”, like scarring or wrinkles.

Roman Sculpture Patrizio Torlonia, or Head of a Roman Patrician (1st Century BCE); Unknown author Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This realism in figures is referred to as “verism”, which is a stylistic difference compared to the Greek style of portraying the heroic and warrior-like masculine figures. The Roman style became more “warts-and-all”. There is also scholarly debate about the meaning of why these portraits were portrayed in such realistic manners.

Some theories suggest that these “imperfections” reflected personality traits like wisdom or beauty. This style became more prevalent during the Republican period and throughout the Imperial period.

Portraits were usually of men more than women, although there were some portraits of women. Examples of popular Roman busts include the Head of a Roman Patrician (1st Century BCE) and the Fonseca Bust (2nd Century BCE), which is a more idealized depiction of a woman to indicate qualities of beauty and feminine fairness.

Augustus of Prima Porta (1st Century BCE) is another popular marble sculpture depicting Augustus himself. In this sculpture, we see the tendency towards a more idealized depiction of the emperor that alludes to the Classicism we see from the Greeks.

Famous Roman Sculpture Sculpture of Emperor Augusto, located in Prima Porta, Rome, discovered in 1863; Michal Osmenda from Brussels, Belgium, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Reliefs were another popular form of sculpture among the Romans, with strong historical subject matter about war, conquests, and various other aspects relating to the life and events of the emperor. The functions of these relief sculptures were celebratory or educational (didactic).

Although the Romans depicted and revered their Roman gods, their sculptures became more different in subject matter than the predominant mythological subject matter widely depicted in Greek Art. A popular example of Roman relief sculpture is Trajan’s Column (c. 110 CE) and the Column of Marcus Aurelius (c. 180-193 CE).

Trajan’s Column is a monumental example of what the Romans achieved in terms of relief sculpture. It was commissioned by Emperor Trajan in 107 CE in commemoration of his victory over Dacia (including two conquests). It is located in Trajan’s Forum in Rome. It measures 125-feet-tall and appears as a spiral narrative in a low-relief technique around the column in the Doric Order style.

Characteristics of Roman Art Reliefs on the Columna Traiana (Trajan’s Column, c. 110 CE) in Rome; Wknight94, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When we look at the Column of Marcus Aurelius, it is almost on par with Trajan’s Column in its monumental qualities. It was also inspired by the former column. However, it is different in its sculptural style, using the high-relief technique. This created a more dramatic and expressive effect as the figures were more raised from the surface of the column.

The figures’ heads were often done larger than was naturally proportional and viewed from the frontal plane. The various techniques used to depict figures along the spiral relief around the column created more perspective and depth.

Marcus Aurelius’ column was in commemoration of his two military campaigns in the Danube against the Quadi and Marcomanni. It stands at 100-feet-tall (in Roman feet) and is in the Doric Order style. The column is located in the Piazza Colonna in Rome.

Roman Artwork Column Detail of the Column of Marcus Aurelius, Rome; Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Other examples of Roman sculptures include the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius (c. 163-173 E), which is made of bronze and depicts Emperor Marcus Aurelius on his horse, raising his right arm while his horse raises his right front leg. The statue is only one example displaying the importance placed on Roman leaders and their horses because it showcased military status and accomplishment (these are otherwise referred to as Equestrian sculptures).

The Portrait of the Four Tetrarchs (c. 300 CE) is an example of a sculpture made during the Late Roman Empire. It is located on the corner of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. It was made from a rock called porphyry and is purple-red in color. This rock was also associated with the power of nobility in the Roman Empire; the color purple was associated with nobility or royalty (the Greek word porphyra means “purple” in English).

Well-Known Roman Sculpture The tetrarchs (from the Greek words for “Four rules”) were the four co-rulers that governed the Roman Empire as long as Diocletian’s reform lasted. Here they were portrayed embracing, in sign of harmony, in a porphyry sculpture dating from the 4th century, produced in Asia Minor, today on a corner of Saint Mark’s in Venice; Nino Barbieri (talk · contribs), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This statue depicts the Four Tetrarchs assigned by Emperor Diocletian to mitigate the pressure of ruling an Empire as a sole emperor (there are two augusti and two caesares). In this sculpture, we notice the four figures in two groups of the older, senior emperors (augusti) and the younger, junior, emperors (caesares). They are all holding their swords with one hand and placing their arm on the other next to them as a sign of camaraderie.

What is different about this sculpture is the move away from the realism we see in many of the Roman Empire art sculptures. The Four Tetrarchs are depicted subjectively. In other words, their anatomical symmetry and facial expressions, or lack thereof, are not in proportion as we have seen in other examples like Augustus of Prima Porta (1stCentury BCE).



The Weakened West Remains Eternal

The Western Roman Empire came to an end because of various socio-political and environmental factors. In turn, the Eastern Empire remained strong. Emperor Constantine created a renewed Roman capital known as Byzantium (later renamed Constantinople). Roman Art was eventually influenced by the East, which developed into what we know today as Byzantine Art (this also ushered in early Christian Art).

Roman Art was indeed an era of innovation and discoveries of a culture seeking advancement of self and life, contrary to them also being known as “copying” the Etruscans and Greeks.

Ahead of their time, the Romans introduced new ways of doing things. Not only did they pioneer architectural structures that would later be emulated by many other architects and artists during the Renaissance period, but they were also a culture for the progression of their people and portraying them and their history as celebrations and commemorations.




Frequently Asked Questions


What Is Roman Art?

Roman art has a long history that dates back all the way to the time of the Etruscans, the Roman Kingdom, the Roman Republic, and the Roman Empire. Roman art spans across different artistic media, namely wall paintings (frescoes), sculptures, architecture, mosaics, jewelry, various ornaments and accessories made from glass and silverware, among many others.


What Are the Characteristics of Roman Art?

When it came to Roman paintings, the main characteristics included landscapes and still lives as subject matter incorporated into wall paintings and murals alongside various other figures and animals. Roman paintings were also done as frescoes (wet paint on wet plaster). The Romans also invented the Roman Groin Vault in architecture, which enhanced the older Post-and-Lintel systems used by the Greeks.


What Are the Four Styles of Roman Painting?

Most of the Roman paintings we see today are from examples excavated from Pompeii and Herculaneum, preserved under the ashes of the Mount Vesuvius eruption in 79 AD. The German archaeologist, August Mau, excavated the Pompeii remains during the 1800s and developed four classifications for the styles of wall paintings found, namely, Incrustation Style, Architectural Style, Ornate Style, and Intricate Style.


What Was the Difference Between Greek and Roman Art?

What set the Romans apart from the Greek style of art, specifically sculpture, was their inclination to depict their subject matter more realistically. This realism contrasted with the idealized figures portrayed in Greek sculptures. The Romans depicted their figures (mostly men) with all their “imperfections” like old age, wrinkles, or scars to indicate personality traits like wisdom. Women were not depicted often, but they would appear fairer with fewer “warts-and-all” to represent the ideals of beauty and fashionable styles of the time.


Did the Romans Invent Concrete?

The Romans innovated the use of concrete, which led to more innovative building designs like the Groin Vault and the dome structures. This started the “Roman Architectural Revolution” or the “Concrete Revolution”.


Cite this Article

Isabella, Meyer, “Roman Art – A Brief Study of the History of Ancient Roman Art.” Art in Context. May 26, 2021. URL:

Meyer, I. (2021, 26 May). Roman Art – A Brief Study of the History of Ancient Roman Art. Art in Context.

Meyer, Isabella. “Roman Art – A Brief Study of the History of Ancient Roman Art.” Art in Context, May 26, 2021.

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