Early Roman art was largely influenced by Greek, Etruscan, Native Italic, Egyptian and Middle Eastern people, and probably others as well. Some of the most well known early Roman art includes architecture, sculpture and painting. The Romans also began to create mosaics made of small pieces of tile, frescoes painted on plaster walls, and murals. Roman artists were apparently so impressed by Greek art that Roman artists began to copy the Greek style.
In works of sculpture, the Greeks were more abstract when depicting people. Roman artists worked harder to make the sculptures look more like the individuals they depicted. Although Roman art showed marked improvement after its influence from Greek artisans, the art created by ancient Roman artists may never have matched the quality of that of the Greeks.
The Romans conquered Greece about 146 B.C., after which many Greek artisans moved voluntarily to Rome and began to sell their works of art. The Romans captured other Greek artists and sold them as slaves. Such Greeks artists created artwork while toiling in indentured servitude. The free Greeks in Rome were unsurpassed in creating works of art, so much so that they found a ready and willing market for the sale of their work. Many of the Greek pieces of art made in Rome were original works, but others were simply imitations of then-famous originals.
Death masks were a Roman custom. Roman artists used such masks to create faces on the busts of deceased persons. Such busts were usually made of terra-cotta or bronze. Originally, the busts attempted simply to portray the image of the deceased person. However, the purpose in creating the busts changed over time. It become stylish to ally the image of the person depicted in the bust to service to the government. Later, the art form began to capture and combine the Roman zest for realism with Greek abstraction of form. At about the time of Tiberius, portrait busts began to show an increase not only in visual refinement, but also in psychological penetration.
The Eastern provinces of the Romans began a marked increase in influence. Middle Eastern influence appeared about 98 A.D. when artistic systems of continuous narration gained headway into Roman art.
Other influences over Roman art include the design and use of columns, equestrian statues, and the Oriental abstraction. The Christian influence on art in Rome included the use of fewer scenes of bloody battles, and more depictions of people looking upward toward heaven. Such Christian-created art usually had less emphasis on proper body proportions.
In Roman art, architecture began to change from simple to ornate, with the design overshadowing construction. Paintings found in Pompeii reveal that artwork contained large areas of plain colors, punctuated with scenes of brilliant colors. Often artwork emphasized sumptuousness or ornamentation, and golden jewelry and cameos became extremely popular.
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