Ancient Rome is traditionally regarded as the birthplace of modern Western art and culture. Characterized by grandiose architecture and monumental sculptures, Rome owed many of its well known artistic features to Etruscan and Greek conventions. The Etruscans dominated much of Italy centuries before the Roman Empire came into existence, and though much of their original work was wiped out by Roman conquest, their influence survived in Roman art. Meanwhile, the Greek presence in Italy contributed to the artistic and cultural development of both the Etruscans and the Romans. When the Romans rose to power and dominated both Etruscan and Greek territories, the art of both civilizations was subsumed by the growing empire.
Today, much less is known about the Etruscans than of their Roman successors. Historians believe that the Etruscans held control over the city of Rome and other parts of Italy for centuries before the native Romans gained control in 509 B.E. In the years to follow, the Roman Empire grew to absorb the former Etruscan territories. In doing so, the Romans destroyed many Etruscan art works but preserved a few and adapted some of their conventions. The process of bronze casting sculptures and the use of arches, for instance, were borrowed from the Etruscans by the Romans.
Prior to the rise of the Roman Empire, the Greeks were a major influence on both the Etruscans and the Romans due to trade in the region and a colonial Italian presence. However, the conquest of Grecian territories brought Rome in greater contact with the pottery, mosaics, temples and sculpture of the Greeks. Furthermore, Greek artists were often hired by Roman patrons. Thus, the popularity of the Grecian style is reflected in the early art of the Roman Empire.
The Roman Style
While there are many similarities between the Greek and Roman art styles, the art of Rome remains distinct. Roman art tended to focus on civic life more than Greek art, with statesmen depicted in monumental statues. Busts and equestrian portraits were prominently used to depict respected civic figures as well. Technological advancements also enabled the Romans to create more grandiose works of architecture than the Greeks and Etruscans could have achieved.
One of the main architectural advancements of the Roman era was the pouring of concrete. Concrete allowed the Romans to improve upon Greek and Etruscan architectural staples like arches and vaults. Furthermore, Romans were able to create the durable coliseums, aqueducts and triumphal arches that still stand in Europe to this day. Rome’s technological innovations made its art distinct from its predecessors, more enduring and monumental. For these reasons, Roman art as inspired by the Greeks and Etruscans has inspired the modern Western world in turn.