Term "art of the Ancient Rome" is usually used to describe art created in Rome, but having no tight cultural connections with the native art of a specific region, being under the reigns of the Empire. The art came into being in the period from the 6th to the end of the 4th century BC, i.e. till the Empire was divided into the eastern and western part.
Today Roman art should really be in the category of tax deductions when purchased. When you purchase these historic art pieces, you have a huge obligation in your hands, the preservation of the past. That in my eyes should have rules and with those rules there should be some type of incentive for owning a piece of history.
The eldest stage of the development of the ancient Rome's art is associated with the reigns of Etruscan kings. Its heyday lasted until the Gauls' invasion of Rome in 390 BC.
Romans took over many Etruscan skills connected with architecture and the technique of casting sculptures in bronze. Statues coming from those times were heroes' life-size statues, statues of leaders dressed in togas or armours. Gods' statues were executed in a similar style, but the material used was baked clay.
Painting was represented mainly by landscapes portraying conquered cities. They were painted on boards that were carried during triumphal marches.
Greek influence on Roman art
Relevant development of Roman art took place after conquest of Greece, when the capital of the Empire was overwhelmed by great amounts of works of art from those areas. Roman art was born for the second time, this time under the influence of the conquered.
Development of Roman handicraft was also influenced by Greek patterns. Production of vessels from clay and silver was connected to a great extent with demands of court and particular bloom of these domains of art took place during the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius. Vessels were adorned with the relief pattern with mythological and historical motifs. Silver vessels were made from double thin metal. Their internal part was smooth and the external one was embellished with an imprinted pattern.
In Rome clay vessels were most popular. Vessels, chalices, bowls, plates were adorned with convex vegetal or figurative patterns whose main subject was mythology.
Patterns were imprinted on the potter's wheel, on moulds with convex patterns. It was so-called Aretinian ceramics. Ceramics was also produced in provincial areas. It differed from Aretinian ceramics in the kind of clay and technique of workmanship.
Painting from the Empire's times is actually unknown. Some examples of frescoes made in tombs from the 2nd century were preserved as well as a couple of examples of house interiors' adornments from the 3rd century, found in Rome and Ostia. We can state on that basis that two styles dominated: an illusionistic one and a late Roman one. The first one is represented by pictures of figures with landscapes or architectural elements in the background. The second one is represented by figurative painting on the neutral background, outlined in red.
Architecture of Rome
Architecture of the ancient Rome was initially connected with Rome only, later, as a result of numerous conquests, it was spread across almost the whole Europe, Balkans, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine and Northern Africa.
Roman architecture was formed mostly under the influence of Hellenic and Etruscan architecture.
The first Roman temples were erected during the reigns of Etruscan kings. In those times Romans learned how to cast bronze, bake terracotta, they got acquainted with arch constructions and vaults.
Romans owe the Corinthian style to Greeks. But they created the composite style on their own. Romans also invented cement that was produced from lime and volcano ashes, water and fine stones. It allowed them to master the technique of producing mortars and plasters. The skill of baking bricks, learnt in the 2nd century BC, contributed to a breakthrough in Roman art.
There are roads, aqueducts, sewage installations, bridges, public utility biuldings: curia, basilica, thermaes, circuses preserved from those times. An example of sacral architecture was unpreserved temple of Jupiter the Greatest, built in the Tuscan style.
The time of the Republic was the time of development of town planning and architecture. Towns were surrounded by defensive walls with gates, towers; aqueducts and sewage system had been extended. Rome had been rebuilt. Necropolises arose along the roads. Mausoleums, e.g. Hadrian's Mausoleum and catacombs as well as magnificent palaces were built. Use of domes became more common. Public utility buildings got monumental sizes, e.g. the amphitheatre Coliseum, theatres, Caracalla's Thermaes. Triumphal arches started to arise. Stationary military camps were founded on conquered areas which was the beginning of numerous towns.
Roman sculpture was born twice. The first stage was shaped by Etruscan influence and the second one was the time connected with takeover of many precious masterpieces after conquests that took place in the 2nd century BC.
The beginnings of development of Roman sculpture are usually dated the end of the 2nd century B.C. It was produced on demand of magnates collecting works of art. Copies started to be made to satisfy the still growing demand. They reflected the originals more or less truly. Initially copies were made in Greek workshops, later in various towns of Asia Minor, at last in Italy, particularly after discovery of abundant marble deposits in Carrara.
Statues were also copied, the whole groups were made of them, often imitating single figures. Sculptures served mainly as decoration of interiors and gardens.
Decorative sculpture, whose main subject was mythology, arose from imitating Greek sacral sculpture. Copyists did not sign their names on it usually.
Simultaneously to copyists' activity two other streams of sculpture were developing: portrait and historical relief.
The beginnings of historical bas- relief's development are dated the turn of the 2nd and 1st century b.c. They showed events that really took place in the recent past. Creators tried to reflect characters that took part in these events, their real costumes, weapon, gear and surroundings. Characters were shown on many planes. That helped Roman sculpture to develop its main features such as keeping to facts (historicism), narrativity and illusionism.
The fact that god figures were shown at all and often in the foreground, was a kind of contradiction to historicism. They played a propaganda role because they were persuading the audience that persons shown were right and got necessary support. Historical relief started to play a particular propaganda role after Octavian Augustus had taken the power. The way in which Octavian and his family was illustrated was to justify the fact that the power was in his hands, and allow its succession in the future. That is why his merits were exposed and the legend about his divine origin started to be created.
Relief became more picturesque during the rule of Flavian dynasty. Sculptors tried to get rich chiaroscuro and illusion of picture depth. In the times of Trajan bas-relief reverted to classical patterns by using pattern richness of Greek art. Historical bas-reliefs were mostly exposed on buildings, monuments put up in public places.
Roman portrait ranges over two groups of sculpture. The first one means depictions of the whole figures, put up in order to honour people of great merit for the country. Casts were made in bronze and posed on public squares, especially on Forum Romanum. Some time later statues made from stone emerged. It was the way in which portraits of historic and legendary characters but also of creator's contemporaries were executed. Characters depicted, although similar to original, were idealized to a large extent.
The second group of portraits were busts. Their form was changing as the time was going by, from head with a part of neck to sculpture containing a considerable part of torso.
This kind of sculpture is believed to come from Roman practice of taking off wax death-masks that later started to be copied in stone. Masks were exhibited during funerals and then exposed in houses. Size of such collection was testimony to ancient descent of the family. The privilege of taking off the masks and making ancestors' galleries was given to officials of higher rank. The others, often wealthy citizens or freemen' successors had no such possibilities. Their portraits in the form of busts were placed in Roman necropolises. Characteristic feature of these figures as well as portraits made on the basis of death-masks is figures' realism, accuracy of features even with some exaggeration in lack of comeliness.
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