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Art and Architecture

Roman Art and Architecture

Etruscan Civilization, Etruscan art, Roman monuments, Roman art, emperor Constantine

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Roman Art and Architecture, the art and architecture of ancient Rome and its empire, which at its height extended from the British Isles to the Caspian Sea. The earliest Roman art is generally associated with the overthrow of the Etruscan kings and the establishment of the Republic in 509 bc. The end of Roman art and the beginning of medieval art is usually said to occur with the conversion of the emperor Constantine the Great to Christianity and the transfer of the capital of the empire from Rome to Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) in ad 330. Roman styles and even pagan Roman subjects continued, however, for centuries, often in Christian guise.

Roman art is traditionally divided into two main periods, art of the Roman Republic and art of the Roman Empire (from 27 bc on), with subdivisions corresponding to the major emperors or to imperial dynasties. When the Republic was founded, the term Roman art was virtually synonymous with the art of the city of Rome, which still bore the stamp of its Etruscan past (Etruscan Civilization). Gradually, as the Roman Empire expanded throughout Italy and the Mediterranean and as the Romans became exposed to other artistic cultures, notably that of ancient Greece, Roman art shook off its dependence on Etruscan art; during the last two centuries before Christ a distinctive Roman manner of building, sculpting, and painting emerged.

Nevertheless, because of the extraordinary geographical extent of the Roman Empire and the number of diverse populations encompassed within its boundaries, the art and architecture of the Romans was always eclectic and is characterized by varying styles attributable to differing regional tastes and the diverse preferences of a wide range of patrons. Roman art is not just the art of the emperors, senators, and aristocracy, but of all the peoples of Rome’s vast empire, including middle-class business people, freedmen, slaves, and soldiers in Italy and the provinces.

Curiously, although examples of Roman sculptures, paintings, buildings, and decorative arts survive in great numbers, few names of Roman artists and architects are recorded. In general, Roman monuments were designed to serve the needs of their patrons rather than to express the artistic temperaments of their makers.


Kleiner, Diana E.E., M.A., Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Classics and History of Art, Yale University. Author of "Roman Group Portraiture", "The Monument of Philopappos in Athens", and "Roman Imperial Funerary Altars with Portraits".

Kleiner, Fred S., M.A., Ph.D.

Professor of Art and Archaeology, Boston University. Editor in "Chief", "American Journal of Archaeology". Author of "The Arch of Nero in Rome" and other books.

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