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Types of Roman Art

Art students today still study Roman sculpture.
Roman statue of Caesar on dark red background image by Denis Topal from Fotolia.com

The art of the Roman Empire inhabits some of the best museums and art galleries in the world. Roman art has been influential for thousands of years. It took many forms and was some of the most advanced art when it was produced, between roughly 500 B.C. to 500 A.D.


Some of the most abundant Roman art falls into the category of sculpture. Roman sculptors were heavily influenced by Hellenistic art, the art of ancient Greece. They produced replicas of Greek sculptures including many life-size and larger-than-life sculptures of the human form. Some of these sculptures depicted gods and goddesses, which the Romans renamed to suit their own religious purposes. Today, art historians still struggle to tell the difference between Greek and Roman sculpture.

Roman sculptors worked in a variety of media, including marble and bronze. Because these materials are so durable, many of the works still exist. However, the paint and gold leaf that Roman sculptors applied have worn off, giving Roman sculptures an unintended monochromatic appearance today. Like the Greeks, Roman sculptors achieved lifeline proportions and used energetic poses in their work.


Roman architecture is another major form of Roman art. Many of the buildings that Romans designed and engineered are still standing throughout Europe. Romans frequently used carved columns, another item borrowed from the Greeks. Roman engineers developed the keystone method for creating stone arches, and often used this architectural principle in aqueducts and large gateways into homes or cities.

Roman villas were large estates with decorative walls, bridges and paved pathways. The homes built for the Roman elite were not only beautiful, but engineering marvels as the Romans pioneered new methods for building foundations to create larger and more durable buildings. Perhaps the greatest example of Roman architecture is the Flavian Amphitheater, also known as the Coliseum, in the modern city of Rome.


Large wall murals were another common type of art in ancient Rome. While Roman painters used several methods for painting the walls of large homes, the fresco method, which involves painting the wall while the plaster is still wet, is among the most recognized today. Roman frescoes use vibrant colors to depict images of family members, scenery from Roman mythology or outdoor scenes that have only decorative value. Some Roman frescoes are intended to mimic windows, depicting a garden in bloom or a grove of trees with birds flying overhead. Some even include painted architectural elements like a false window sill to enhance the illusion.

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