Rome's art reflects its history would be an understatement
The first true Roman art forms were pottery and mosaics. As Rome became more organized, its people began to expand past Italy and the arts evolved with them.
The Roman civilization was long-lasting and might have lasted longer than any other large culture depending on the period being considered. From a small agricultural community to a worldwide empire with a population of over 100 million at its peak, Rome had changed immensely throughout its history. The development from a simple settlement on the Palatine Hill to an empire and the influence of this civilization on everything from language to politics is profound. To say that Rome's art reflects its history would be an understatement.
Art was a significant part of Roman life and culture, and its development mirrors Rome itself. The earliest carvings can be found at Alba Longa, but no examples have survived, so it is challenging to study the style. When the Romans started trading with other civilizations, they incorporated many elements of their art into their work. The Romans believed that art was an expression of natural talent and beauty that reflected the world around them and had a duty to inspire audiences towards better lives or teach something true.
The first proper Roman art forms were pottery and mosaics. As Rome became more organized, its people expanded past Italy, and the arts evolved with them. Portraiture was first introduced around 200 BCE; busts of historical figures like Scipio Africanus (236-183 BCE) show the influence of Greek sculpting techniques. Coins were another primary source of Roman portraiture. During this time, the sculpture also began to replace architecture as the primary art form.
The Romans' struggle for dominance in Italy can be seen in their use of religious imagery throughout their history. The earliest cult statues from the 3rd century BCE depict Greek deities and are found near temples. After the Greek and Etruscan cities were conquered, Roman gods replaced Greek ones. With the birth of Christ and the rise of Christianity, more and more statues began to appear with Christian elements; although, some churches also retained their classical influences.
The most common use of art in ancient Rome was on public buildings like temples or forts. Most Roman soldiers were usually depicted as clean-shaven with short hair and resembled Greek sculptures in every way possible. The details on these sculptures would show the rank and importance of the individual and tell a story about their military accomplishments.
The Temple of Pax ent, built-in 121 BCE during the earliest period for Roman art, is the best example of this classical influence. The architect, Cossutius, designed the temple with Doric pillars and a traditional Greek layout; however, its carvings were purely Roman. On each side of the steps is an image of two soldiers holding spears and shields; they stand in front of wreaths placed around doorways. The art of the time lacks detail and realism; however, this temple shows that the Romans used symbolism to show their culture and connections to Greek history even at the beginning.
The Forum in Rome is another example of Greek influence in Roman architecture and art. Julius Caesar built this particular Forum on top of an older one from around 50 BCE. The original had sizeable white marble columns with bases and capitals of bronze; they were not very tall but stood on high platforms. Gold statues of previous emperors lined the bottom of the platform for public viewing, which honored them as if they still lived.
The Forum was also home to Trajan's Column, built-in 113 CE, and named after Marcus Ulpius Trajanus, who ordered it. The column used to be attached to a temple and has no religious meaning; instead, it served to commemorate Trajan's victory over Dacia (now modern-day Romania). It is decorated with relief sculptures that tell his story from birth to death. The column is covered in scenes of Trajan's victories, the Dacians' torture, and other war-related images, which are accompanied by detailed annotations. These carvings are similar to Etruscan tombs that also commemorate military success.
The reliefs were created using a dangerous new technique: spiraling around the column rather than placing each image side by side. The spiral pattern unwound towards the top to make sense of drama. The viewer's eyes are naturally led up the column rather than straight across and down, showing how Roman artists began to think about perspective.
The Tomb of Eurysaces in Rome is another excellent example of Greek influence on Roman art. It was built in Rome in 50-20 BCE and is a large rectangular brick building with two elongated barrel vaults. The top portion of the façade has a series of niches with Corinthian half-columns that support an entablature.
On each wall, eight niches hold sculptures depicting the life and achievements of the tomb's owner. Inscriptions on the side-wall include quotes from the deceased, written in Old Latin verse and usually related to work or duty. The style of these reliefs is very similar to that seen in Etruscan tombs and reflects a fascination with Bacchanalian revelry and Dionysian imagery.
In addition, the top of the tomb has a decorative frieze with alternating triglyphs and guttae, which form a metope. There are also images of people at work as well as animals fighting. These images tell a story about a life well-lived through dedication to family and work
Ancient Roman art is well known for its historical value, but it still can inspire artists even today. The triumphal arch in Orange, France, is a tribute to the Roman influence that took 27 years to complete (1810-1837) and looks almost identical to its Greco-Roman predecessors.
The art of Ancient Rome provides us with insight into how their society functioned, which can be especially helpful considering the lack of literature. It also gives us a glimpse into people's minds long past; they were not all soldiers and conquerors but were complex individuals who liked to laugh, tell stories and drink wine.