What is Roman art?

The concept of Roman art designates the set of artistic manifestations , especially architecture, sculpture, painting and decorative arts, characteristics of Ancient Rome , produced between the 6th centuries BC. C. and IV d. C. approximately.

Throughout that period, the city of Rome expanded first through the Italian peninsula and then throughout the rest of the Mediterranean world , to form an immense civilization known as the Roman Empire .

Roman art and culture were influenced by the Etruscan civilization , during the first centuries, and the Greek from the third century BC. C.

From the 1st century a. These influences, adapted to Roman taste and needs, acquired an easily recognizable character of their own.

Arch of Titus, built in the 1st century to commemorate the victories of this emperor over Judea.

Characteristics of Roman art

The main characteristics of Roman art are the following:

  • Overall, it was utilitarian. It tended to express the idea of ​​Rome as the center of the world and to exalt the power of the Roman state.
  • Its great Greek influence, which began from the contact of Rome with the Greek cities installed in southern Italy, intensified with the conquest of the Macedonian kingdoms.
  • Most of the artists working in Rome were Greek, and collectors acquired or had sculptures of that origin copied.
  • It reached its maximum development from the constitution of the Empire, under the reign of Augustus, in the year 27 BC. C. Among the upper classes an intense consumption of works developed that stimulated the artistic trade.
  • Architectureand sculpture stood out from his art . In both disciplines the Romans introduced new typologies and genres .
  • Simultaneously with state and monumental art, there was a popular art that manifested itself in the reliefs of the tombs. These reliefs show a taste for the detailed representation of everyday life situations.

Roman architecture

Roman architecture is the discipline in which the power of the State was best manifested, through the construction of large works for public use . It is also the one that has been best documented. Not only have many constructions survived, but a theoretical treatise, De architectura , written by Vitruvius in the 1st century BC , is preserved . C.

Roman architecture is characterized by:

  • Using the arc midpointand, as derivation, the vault barrel vaults and the dome .
  • The use of concrete(also called mortar) and the elaborate use of bricks of different shapes.
  • The incorporation of the design of spacious interior spaces.
  • Planning of urban space.
  • The development of new architectural typologies.

The Greek influence on architecture manifested itself in the use of the Greek architectural orders (Doric, Ionic and Corinthian) or their adaptations, but with an ornamental purpose .

Architectural typologies

Some of the architectural typologies that they introduced were the following:

  • Amphitheater: a closed building with an elliptical floor plan, designed to hold public performances, such as gladiatorial fights.
  • Basilica: large enclosed space located in the forums of major cities, where judicial and commercial activities were carried out. After the fall of the Roman Empire, this typology gave rise to Christian churches.
  • Circus: horse cart racing tracks, with stands for the public. They are the antecedents of the current racetracks.
  • Thermal baths: buildings with a function similar to that of current clubs. They had public baths, sports halls, libraries, and meeting rooms.
  • Triumphalarches: these arches, covered with commemorative reliefs, reproduced the access gates to the cities and recalled the exploits of the victorious generals.

Also characteristic of Roman architecture and engineering were the network of roads, bridges and aqueducts that were built throughout the territory of the Empire.

Roman sculpture

Roman sculpture, especially from the Empire, imported the Greek models, but adapted them to its own conception of the world, more concrete, realistic and practical .

It was characterized by the introduction of two genres: portraiture and narrative relief .

The sculptural portrait went through various stylistic stages: in the republican period they were more rigid and austere ; later, they tended to idealize the characters in the first years of the empire and towards the end they adopted more expressive features . Despite these differences, the portraits always sought to reproduce the characters they represented in a naturalistic way .

The narrative reliefs are true historical descriptions made on the stone. Generally, they represented the military glories of emperors and generals and were displayed on altars, triumphal arches, commemorative columns, and tombs.

Roman painting

Most of the painting that survived from ancient Rome is mural and comes from the city ​​of Pompeii . These frescoes were preserved when the city was buried by the ashes of the eruption of Vesuvius , in 79 AD. C.

From these findings, the researchers established four styles of Pompeian wall painting:

  • First style:the walls were painted imitating colored marble plates.
  • Second style:an outdoor space was simulated, as if the wall did not exist. Sometimes people or scenes were also included.
  • Third style:the walls were painted in flat colors and small details were included.
  • Fourth style:a synthesis was sought between the second and the third. On flat colored walls, spaces with naturalistic scenes were opened.

Another characteristic pictorial manifestation were the scenes with mosaics . In this case, the images were built with small pieces of marble of different colors.

Roman art works

Some of the most important examples of Roman art are:

Architecture and engineering

  • Flavian Amphitheater(also known as Coliseum): its construction ended in 80 BC. C. It had capacity for 50,000 people.
  • Pantheon of Agrippa: temple built in the second century by the emperor Hadrian. It is covered by a huge concrete dome.
  • Pont du Gard: aqueduct built on the river Gard in France.

Image of the Pont du Gard, France.

Sculpture and relief

  • Trajancolumn: a tribute column covered with historiated reliefs that commemorate the Emperor Trajan’s campaign against the Dacians.
  • Augustus of Prima Porta: sculpture of the Emperor Augustus

Sculpture Augusto de Prima Porta.


  • Wall Paintings of the Villa of the Vetii: Paintings that decorated the luxurious home of the Vetii family in Pompeii.


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