Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Roman Art Research Paper

Research Paper on Roman Art

Art is everywhere, even if we do not realize that. The way we dress, where we live, and what we believe are all influenced by our surrounding. Romans were collectors and admirers of Greek art.

The art from Greece was brought to Rome, and changed by the Romans. Roman art is divided into four major categories that are; “portrait sculptures, paintings and mosaics, relief sculptures, and statues” (Art and Text in Roman Culture 197). In the two pieces described bellow two of this characteristics are (relief sculpture and statues) used to represent and remember their emperors and Gods.


Sculptures were one form of art in which the Romans used to describe their emperors and Gods. Many statues of people were made into an ideal form, although some represented a person's characteristics or a moment of their life. Roman culture had many successful emperors. The five most famous were Nerva, Hadrian, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, and Antoninus Pius. Those five emperors gave Rome an era of great stability. Marcus Aurelius was a successful military commander, but not all the emperors were seen as “good emperors”. Unfortunately, he was succeeded as emperor by his son Commodus, who within in only twelve years destroyed the government his predecessors had so carefully built. Commodus was a man “lacking political skill, administrative competence, and intellectual characteristic” (Commodus, an emperor at the crossroads 216) and were those characteristics that brought the empire of Rome down in such a short period of time. Commodus dedicated himself “to luxury and frivolous pursuits” (Art History Book). The sculpture from the book of “Commodus as Hercules,” is a reflection from his character. The sculptor’s perceptive “model and expert drill work exploit the play of light and shadow on the figure and bring out the textures of the hair, beard, facial features, and drapery” (Art History Book). The sculpture expresses the fantasy of life and movement, but it also captures its subject’s flaw.

The sculpture of “Commodus as Hercules” was made of marble and height 46 1/2". This emperor was considered to be insane and he even believed to be the reincarnation of Gods such as Hercules and the incarnation of the God Jupiter. He even got to the point where he ordered the months of the Roman year to be renamed after him and changed the name of Rome to Colonia Commodiana. In the sculpture the emperor is portrayed as Hercules, decorated with references to the hero’s “his club, the skin and head of the Nemean Lion, and the golden apples from the garden of the Hesperides” (Commodus, an emperor at the crossroads 149).

The emperors and Gods were also represented in other ways and change through out the time. During this period of time their funerary practices changed from cremation, to using sarcophagus. Like the Etruscans, the early Romans generally cremated their dead, and they placed the ashes in special cinerary urns or vases. It was around 100 AD that cremation was replaced by inhumation as the standard burial custom in the Roman Empire (A Roman Life 57). Although they had already existed elsewhere for centuries, marble sarcophagi decorated with bas-relief became a characteristic Roman art form. Sarcophagi from the western empire, and more specifically from Rome, were carved on three sides, the fourth sides were carved. Most sarcophagi used relief sculptures which were “carved into large pieces of stone, and used to decorate pediments, cella walls of temples, and the interior and exterior of various buildings” (The Roman Empire 115). There are two types of relief sculptures. One is a pictorial frieze, which is “an unbroken representation of one or more mythological or historical events. The other is an image, consists of a self-contained representation of an act, an occurrence, or event relating to the deeds of military figures” (The Roman Empire 123).

Because Rome was heavily influenced by Greek culture, characters and situations from Greek mythology were common subjects on sarcophagi. Portrayed on one sarcophagus is the myth of “the Return of the Body of Meleager to Kalydon” and uses a pictorial frieze kind of relief. This sarcophagus, a coffin carved, was made to hold the body of a wealthy Roman.

According to the myth, the sarcophagus relates a famous story about the death of the young prince, Meleager. At his birth the Fates decreed that Meleager would live only as long as a log in the fire remained intact. After hearing this, his mother Althaea, rescued the log from the fire. Meleager grew up and became a famous hunter. Unfortunately, during one incident he killed his uncle during one argument. When his mother found out about the dead of her brother, she took the log from its hiding place and threw it into the fire. Meleager began to weaken until finally he died. Althaea grieved for the son that she had given both life and death (Museum of Art).

As we can see both the sarcophagus and the Statues are essentially antiquity's marble objects. They both portrait the life of important people, Gods, and emperors during the Roman period. Both, in the sarcophagus of “the Return of the Body of Meleager to Kalydon” and in the statue of “Commodus as Hercules” the main characters are visualized as strong male figures, with most of their body uncovered.

In conclusion, the Roman Empire was influence by the Greek culture, and became the great empire we know today. By using four major styles that are, portrait sculptures, paintings and mosaics, relief sculptures, and statues, the Romans were able to create their on architecture. When studying the pieces of “the Return of the Body of Meleager to Kalydon” and “Commodus as Hercules” I was able to find some similarities between those two, but most of all the way they relate to each other, and the influence they had on their emperors. Romans were more focused on their emperor during this period of time, and it was by using styles like relief sculptures and statues that they were able to demonstrate that.

Warning!!! All free online research papers, research paper samples and example research papers on Art topics are plagiarized and cannot be fully used in your high school, college or university education.

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