Roman Art and
wall painting
unswept floor mosaic

Historical intrigue
The Aeneid


In general Roman architecure is traditional in that it uses post and lentil constuction. What made it innovative was the combined use of concrete and the arch. Facades were often limestone, brick, and concrete with marble facing. Sculpted reliefs are common features on the triumphal arches and served to reinforce public proclaimations of power. Barrel vaults are typical with travertine, wood, or concrete piers. Roman architects emphasied both the exterior and interior decor which was usually finished in bronze and/ or marble. Roman architecture was primarily secular in nature although there were ceratinly temples. They also used architeture (triumphal arches) for propaganda purposes.

The Flavian amphitheatre or colosseum covered approximately six acres and reached a height of 150 feet. There were 3 orders superimposed (Doric, Ionic, Corinthian) with the emporer, vestal virgins, and favored senators occupying the first level, the aristocrats and wealthy middleclass the second, and the poor, slaves, and women the third. The velarium fabric canopy provided relief from sun. The facility seated 50,000 and by virtue of its barrel vaults and 80 arched entryways could be emptied in minutes. Today, sports arenas are modelled on the Roman colosseum style.

Primarily served either a governmental purpose as propaganda (triumphal arch, forum) or a secular function (arenas, baths, aqueducts, colosseum).

The Roman forum was, like the Greek agora, the center of public life and the locus of Senate and Imperial proclamations The forum was also the place where the laws were read, issues debated, and a central area for ostentacious display of grief and gratitude. The forum was instituted in the early Republican era, but by the time of Augustus for health reasons no carts were allowed in the Roman Forum, necessitating the establishment of specialty marketplaces (like the Forum Boarium, or cattle market).

Originally, the visitor approached the Pantheon through a courtyard precinct, where the main altar was located. Only the classical portico with huge (40 feet high) unfluted columns of black and red Egyptian granite could be seen. The interior height of the Pantheon ceiling is an incredible 142' compared to the height of the dome of St. Peter's (139') or the nave of Chartres Cathedral (140'). The Pantheon was a completely free-standing building, and the first hemispherically domed structure. Its concrete drum, rests on a 15' foundation rising from a point beginning one-half the actual height of diameter of the building. The 24' thick walls circumscribes a complete sphere within its volume. 20' at base, the base tapers in stages on the outside as it rises to the oculus which is 30 feet in diameter.
The original bronze rosettes of the coffered interior, the bronze sheets which clad the exterior of the dome, and the bronze beams of the portico were stripped in the seventeenth century at the command of the Barberini pope, Urban VIII. This pillaged material went into the Baldacchino structure ( 97') of Bernini which stands over the high altar and tomb of St. Peter's.

Triumphal arches
Those built by Titus, Trajan, and Constantine became synonomous with public statements of power and became the visual vocabulary of power adopted by Queen Victoria in London and Napoleon in Paris.

marcus aurelius


Materials were varied with sculptors using marble, granite, bronze, and terra cotta. Most popular were busts. Reliefs and freestanding scuptures were used to decorate both public and private spaces. The style of Roman sculpture was focused on realism, individualism, personality, and in some cases, heroic idealism (Augustus Ceasar). Unlike the Greek style Roman sculpture features everyday men and women, who are clothed and far more realistic and psychologically revealing than idealistic.

Sculpture provided personal enjoyment, paid homage to family members ( paterfamilias), and reinforced state propaganda. Reliefs on the triumphal arches and Trajan's Column celebrate but do not glamorize warfare.

Sculptures offer a realistic view of Roman leaders and the wealthy. They reinforced and popularized Roman artistic conventions.


(Mosaics) Roman mosaics were constructed of small pieces of stone (rarely glass) and embedded into wet cement surfaces. There is, as in Roman painting, a preference for secular rather than religious subject matter (hunting scenes, gladiator contests). In general, the mosaics were installed on the floor and made of smooth earth colored stones. The workmanship varies from primitive to sophisticated renderings that typically show perspective and chiaroscuro.

(Painting) Roman painting is fresco style and designed to give viewers the impression that they are looking into distant spaces (empirical perspective). Chiaroscuro (shading) is also employed to add to the sense of illusion. Genre art featuring still life was popular as were landscapes.

Roman mosaics and paitings were decorative in purpose and generally secular in content. They served to reference the concrete everyday events and give testimony to the pleasures of food, hunting, and idylic landscapes which celebrated a life of innocence and simplicity.

The themes portrayed were to reappear frequently in the arts of the West especially during times of rising urbanization. The mosaic style becomes reinterprted by the Christian artists and remains the primary decorative and instructive feature of Byzantine churches.

Piazza Armerina: floor mosaics, Sicily
Roman painting of Venus Rome