Roman Architecture and Art 500 BC - 310 AD

Roman Architecture and Art
500 BC - 310 AD
Originally a small city
state, Rome evolved
into the greatest
empire in world history.
By 510 BC the
Romans had broken
away from Estrucan
domination of central
Italy; in the third
century BC, the
Romans conquered
Carthage and
embarked upon world
Porta Augusta 2 BC Rome
Estrucans ruled central Italy before the Romans. Little of
Estrucan culture remains; a fortified city gate in Perugia survives.
It shows a masterful use of the arch and masonry techniques. An
arch is a semi-circular architectural construction built of wedgeshaped blocks. It spans an opening, and is usually supported by a
column. Because Estrucan towns are buried under present-day
cities, they are difficult to excavate.
The Colosseum 72-80 AD Rome
The grandest of all Roman structures is the Colosseum. It held 50,000
spectators for events such as battles between animals and gladiators. The
arch and vault were essential parts of this architecture. The arch is a curved
element used to span an opening. A vault is an arched roof or covering
made of rock, stone or concrete. The outer wall is 16 stories tall.
The Colosseum 72-80 AD Rome
A wall went completely around the structure and supported poles from
which a huge awning could be stretched to protect spectators from weather.
1000 men were required to raise or lower this awning, called a velarium.
The floor area could also be flooded and used as a shallow lake to stage
mock naval battles. Later generations of Romans plundered the
Colosseum’s marble for use in newer buildings.
The Pantheon 118-125 AD Rome
Romans made great advances in architecture, constructing numerous
buildings such as arenas, public baths and forums with vast interior spaces.
The Pantheon, built to honor all the gods, has a huge dome (an exact
hemisphere on the inside) which creates an overwhelming interior space.
The Pantheon 118-125 AD Rome
A huge dome (an exact hemisphere on the inside) rests on a mammoth
drum. The floor is 144 feet in diameter; the top of the dome is 144
above the floor. The concrete dome is thin on top and thickens as it
meets the walls. The dome is coffered—decorated with a series of
recessed rectangular panels. The walls are over 20 feet thick, strong
enough to support the heavy dome.
The Pantheon
118-125 AD Rome
The only source of light
is a single round, eyelike opening at the top of
the dome called an
occulus, which is 30 feet
in diameter. Rain is
carried away by an
underground drainage
The Baths of Caracalla 215 AD Rome
The Romans built gigantic structures to house their public baths. The
complex contained several pools of various temperatures, libraries,
offices, meeting rooms and recreation areas.
The Baths of Caracalla 215 AD Rome
Romans built gigantic structures to house their public baths. They
contained several pools of various temperatures. The interior was
roofed with vaults that spanned enormous spaces.
The Theater of Herodes Atticus 2 AD Athens
Romans altered Greek theater design; rather than 2/3 circle, the
seating was changed to a semicircle, allowing for a larger stage area
than before. Theaters were often freestanding rather than being built
into a hillside. This theater at the side of the Acropolis is still in use.
The Theater of Herodes Atticus 2 AD Athens
The Theater of Herodes Atticus 2 AD
The Arch of Constantine 312 AD Rome
Several emperors built large triumphal arches to celebrate their own
rise to power
Ruins of the Roman Forum
Romans built public spaces, called forums, as sites
for various gatherings and discussions.
Artist’s Rendering of the Roman Forum
Romans built gathering spaces, called forums, as
places for all sorts of public discussions.
Roman Basilica
Romans built rectangular civic buildings—referred to as a
basilica—in which the ground floor plan was divided into
nave, side aisles and apse. This became the basic design
for later Christian churches.
We see in this
basilica floor plan
that the ground
floor was divided
into nave, side
aisles and apse.
This later became
the basis for
Christian church
building design.
Roman Basilica
The Roman basilica was a rectangular civic building which
featured a simple, unadorned façade.
Roman Sculpture
Romans borrowed from Greek
sculpture, but also created
original portraits to honor their
leaders. These portraits helped
preserve the individual features
of the emperors and
emphasized their greatness.
The Head of Augustus (14 AD,
19” high) was part of a large
full-length figure. It is cast in
bronze, with eyes of glass
paste. It depicts an individual,
not an idealization. Such a
likeness allowed Roman
subjects throughout the vast
empire to know what their rulers
looked like in an era long before
The Portrait of a Lady
Carved in marble
69 AD, 26” tall
This was probably a
commission portrait,
used to decorate the
woman’s home.
The Column of
113 AD, Rome
This marble cylinder
is over 130 feet tall,
topped by a statue of
St. Peter. The story
of the emperor
Trajan’s military
campaign is carved
into the stone.
of Marcus
161-180 AD
This dramatic, heroic
posed, larger-than-life
sculpture had a
tremendous influence
on later artists —
especially during the
Renaissance period.
The anatomy of the
horse is very realistic,
although when
compared to the large
figure of the rider it
seems small in scale.
Equestrian Statue
of Marcus Aurelius
161-180 AD
The bearded emperor
looks out on the world,
his right arm in a
typical Roman
oratorical gesture.
The figures are wellbalanced, with all the
weight of the cast
bronze evenly
distributed over the
horse’s three
supporting legs.
Constantine the
330 AD, Marble
8’ high, Rome
This was originally part of
an enormous full-figure
sculpture, now lost.
The eyes seem overly
large, a characteristic of
early Christian art. The
eyes were carved so that
cast shadows, not paint,
defined the iris and pupils.
Roman Painting
Woman Playing a Cithera
79 AD, Fresco, 6.5’ tall
Fresco is a method of painting
images into the wet plaster of a wall;
the image becomes part of the wall
instead of sitting on top of its outer
Such portraits were used for private
home decoration.
The artist created an illusion of
depth by the use of overlapping
forms. The poses are more relaxed
compared to the heroic poses of
Roman Mosaics
Doves, 2 AD
33.5” tall
Romans excelled in
mosaics, made of small
bits of marble which were
cut, polished and fitted
together to make an
image. They were often
used to decorate walls
and floors of homes and
Tile mosaics decorate our
own NYC subway
Roman Mosaics
Young Women Exercising, 4 AD, Roman villa
Here we see contemporary women of the time involved in ordinary
daily activities; not all Roman art depicted heroes and leaders.
On August 24, AD 79,
the volcanic Mt.
Vesuvius erupted.
The nearby city of
Pompeii was covered
in molten lava, ash
and pumice.
20,000 citizens
escaped, but at least
2,000 people stayed
behind and were
trapped in the burning
Archaeologists excavated Pompeii in the 1860s. They discovered
that everything had been preserved intact since AD 79, frozen under
volcanic debris. Shops, businesses, people — even the food left
standing when the volcano erupted — provided an accurate picture
of life in this time period.
Human corpses had disintegrated, but the mud shells which had
hardened around these figures were used as molds for plaster casts
to reconstruct the victims in the poses of their moment of death.
Scientists uncovered the buried city and documented their findings.
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