The contact with Greek culture was so suited to Roman consciousness that it instantaneously and directly influenced Roman art, costume, literature and perhaps most importantly literacy itself. This revolution was so fundamental and immediate that it was not easy to digest, but digest they did! We can well imagine how the more traditional people of Rome reacted to this new danger: literate plebeian farmers might begin to question commands whilst at the same time hold little esteem for a commander interested in “soft” pass-times such as art collecting.
During the golden age of the empire and in particular during the rule of Emperor Augustus a new language of art was developed. It was based on the discoveries and developments of Greek art, but Augustus and the political elite ensured that new symbols and meanings should be developed for public use, to convey a new message to the receiver of art. Art was to become more than a collectable item for the gardens of the rich and was now used as a means of propaganda. Old temples were restored and new temples were erected. All public buildings were beautified, covered in marbles and artistic embellishments worthy of Rome’s political primacy. All these public buildings were laden with sculpture and art aimed at transmitting the message of the consolidated power and godly legitimacy of the state and emperor.
The late critic Gottfried Richter suggested that development in art is a consequence of human consciousness: Perhaps this is an appropriate key to understanding the Roman assimilation of Greek art and its eventual rejection of it:
The Greeks had borrowed from the Egyptian culture which preceded them and evolved it into their own vision of the natural world about them. This new view of the world and man’s place within it happened (?) to perfectly suit Roman consciousness also. This vision placed man in the world as a free being; free to take his own decisions, able to converse with the gods and strike bargains with them in much the same way that a business contract might be struck in the forum.
It wasn’t until the 4th-5th Century AD that Western/Roman consciousness evolved with Christianity and that the classical Greek view of reality would cease to be of immediate use in art and was replaced by a new approach.
The survival and later development of Greek art (during the Renaissance) owes much to the Romans. The demand generated by the Romans for the great works and visions of the Greeks meant that a network of sculpture studios grew throughout the empire to literally reproduce mass replicas of the greatest works. A pilgrim or traveler could easily buy a miniature souvenir of his favourite statue. In the vast majority of cases the original works have been lost or destroyed but the many copies, of varying quality, have allowed us to understand what the originals were like. Writers, such as Pliny, went as far as describing works, such as the Laocoon (now in the Vatican) which were regarded to be the greatest works of art of his age. In so doing he allowed the artists of the Renaissance to pick up the thread afresh.
Art in ancient Rome: | Art in Ancient Rome – Introduction | The decadence of classical art | Foreign influence | The Greek revolution | Ancient Roman Paintings | Painting Styles | Drawing | Ancient Roman Mosaics | ancient roman jewellery | Sculpture | roman statues | Architecture | Literature and Theatre | Ancient Rome Literature | poems about Rome | roman music | roman pottery |