Roman sculpture

Roman sculpture

Roman sculpture refers to the sculpture of Ancient Rome. Roman sculpture often involved copying of Ancient Greek sculpture. Much Roman sculpture survives, although some of it is damaged. There are many surviving sculptures of Roman emperors. While Roman sculpture copied from the Greeks, it emphasized the individual to a greater extent, and many busts of famous but also anonymous people have survived. Tombstones of rich citizens often exhibit portraits of the deceased carved in relief, and sarcophagi may also be richly decorated.


Classical Roman sculpture began with the sack of Syracuse in 212 BC during the Second Punic War with Carthage. A wealthy outpost of Greek civilization on the island of Sicily, Syracuse was thoroughly plundered and most of its magnificent Hellenistic sculpture was taken to Rome where it replaced the earlier styles of the Etruscan tradition. The Romans continued to admire the Hellenistic style, and eventually workshops throughout the Greek world (especially Asia Minor) provided the statuary without which no patrician villa was complete.

Greek artists settled in Rome after Greece was conquered in 146 BC, and many of these began making copies of Greek sculptures, which were popular in Rome.

Many sculptures were made of the Emperor Augustus which portrayed him as a young man, and at later stages of his life. Busts of following emperors were common and widely distributed.

During Emperor Trajan's time, art from the eastern provinces of the empire began to have more influence on Roman sculpture.

Another example of Roman sculpture on a monumental scale is the frieze of the Arch of Constantine.

Relief sculptures

Relief sculptures were shallow three dimensional carvings on flat surfaces, used for architectural works such as columns, arches and Temples. An example of this type of sculpture would be the Ara Pacis (Altar of Peace) from 13 - 9 B.C. The Ara Pacis was a monument to the Pax Romana (The Roman Peace), 200 years of peace and prosperity ushered in by Emperor Augustus.

A famous later example of relief sculpture is Trajan's Column, dating from 106 - 113 A.D. adorned with scenes of Trajan's battles from the wars in Dacia in a continuous spiral around the column. The frieze shows numerous incidents from the campaigns, with many details showing soldiers at work, such as building forts or manning ballistae. A plaster replica of the column is exhibited in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The Column of Marcus Aurelius is another example of the genre.

Free standing sculpture

The most important free standing sculptures were statues. Most Roman statues were destroyed during the many barbarian invasions of the empire, or by Christian rebuilding. The marble was burned for lime and the very valuable bronze melted down for re-use.

An outstanding example of a piece that survived is the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius (Marcus Aurelius on a horse), dating from 161 - 180 A.D. Legend has it that the emperor's imposing demeanor spared the piece from destruction. It is now protected in a museum environment, with a replica outside in Rome.

Common locations for statues were in the temples, the public baths or thermae, and the city forum (the social and commercial centre of the town).

See also

* Classical sculpture
* History of sculpture
* Naturalis Historia
* Pliny the elder
* Roman art

External links

* " [ Roman art: Sculpture] ". The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th edition. © 2006. Columbia University Press / Infoplease. Visited May 28, 2006.
* " [ Roman Statues and Ancient Roman Sculpture] ". © 2006. Visited May 28, 2006.
* [ Ancient Roman sculpture]

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