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Art in Rome: from its origins to the Caesar's period

lostcivilizations's profile picture
Published in 
 · 20 Nov 2023

If the origins of Rome are uncertain, because its early history is shrouded in mystery, the origins of its artistic and literary activity are no less uncertain.

What is certain, however, is that the Romans, shepherds and farmers first and warriors later, forced to struggle continually for existence, could not initially devote themselves to art. Later, when they began to use the extra time between internal and external travail, had to confronted with already developed art forms in foreign contries, which provided copious and secure models.

Art in Rome: from its origins to the Caesar's period
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Until the FOURTH CENTURY Roman art-painting, sculpture and architecture is greatly affected by the influence of the Etruscans and the Greeks of southern Italy; but it is not a true slavish imitation, but rather a happy blend of Italic and foreign elements in which Rome shows a great ability to fuse different forms and to give them its own imprint (and the latter especially because of the great expansion that Rome then had in the Mediterranean first, and beyond the Alps later.

Art in Rome: from its origins to the Caesar's period
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Soldiers included often architects, stonemasons, builders, agronomists and artisans of all trades. When they founded Aquileia in 181, the Senate sent a triumvirate of engineers, Caius Flaminius, Lucius Manlius Acidinus, Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica. And with the "engineers" 3,000 "Latin colonists" descended from Rome, and another 1,500 descended in the year 169 BC.

From this time (4th century) are the sepulchral paintings, some of which have come down to us; the paintings in the temple of the Salute, the work of Fabio Pittore, which Dionysius of Halicarnassus calls remarkable in design, harmonious in coloring, and full of life, the statues of gods and kings in which Etruscan idealism is tempered by healthy Greek realism, the architectural works, ranging from the private house to the temple, from the bridge to the aqueduct, in which truly "Roman" sobriety and robustness are remarkable.

As the conquests spread, new horizons opened up to the art of Rome: Greece pointed out new ways to travel by showing the wonders of its Olympus; and Asia dazzled with the vividness of its colors and the pomp and lavishness of its works.

Art in Rome: from its origins to the Caesar's period
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Rome is adorned with magnificent buildings, and these are enriched with art treasures brought by the conquerors from the cities, first from Sicily, then from Greece, and finally from the East.

Greece gives the models and also provides numerous artists; but while this is undeniable, it is also beyond doubt that not everything is imitation. Quite a lot of the original is in Rome, and many Roman artists compete with the Greeks, such as CAPONIUS, who sculpted statues depicting the fourteen Asian nations eradicated by Pompey.

The metropolis of Italy and the world, as tastes were refined and riches flowed in, grew larger, adorned and became truly worthy of so vast an empire.

Temples multiplied as the deities multiplied; alongside the small, severe and unadorned temples dedicated to the few and austere indigenous deities arose grandiose temples with superb colonnades, rich in sculpture and painting; the modest houses, furnished with atriums, give way to marble palaces with peristyles adorned with statues, painted walls, and exquisitely crafted mosaic floors, palaces which, like that of the orator Crassus, cost six million sesterces and, like that of Clodius, fifteen; the poor country houses, in which the Cincinnatians lived sparingly, were succeeded by superb villas of Hortensius, Lucullus, and Sallust in the midst of green and fragrant gardens, cheered by parks full of game and the gurgling of a hundred gushing fountains.

Art in Rome: from its origins to the Caesar's period
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The Forum soon became a whole gallery of art, in which statues, buildings, porticoes and tiers of steps, magnificent columns with Corinthian capitals, marvelous bas-reliefs, superb architraves, marble from Pario and Lumi, porphyry and basalt from Africa, and finely wrought granite from Sardinia and Egypt were admired.

The old wooden theaters have been set aside, partly because the cramped stages are no longer worthy of the development taken by the stage performances of the new plays. In the early days the people of Rome went to shanties, and there they applauded the early plays of ANDRONICUS (Tarentum 284 - Rome 204 B.C. - the earliest known poet-author of eight tragedies and three comedies-and it was he who first translated Homer's Odyssey into Saturnian verse); works by Nevius, Terence, and Plautus. C. Curion of theaters still made of wood in Rome had two built, artistically crafted, which by turning in on themselves could join to form an amphitheater for the first gladiator shows and beast hunts.

In 58 B.C. Aemilius Scaurus had a grandiose one built, adorned with three hundred and sixty marble columns, three thousand bronze statues, with the first wall mosaics; and soon afterwards Pompey, again in masonry, with a cavea and monumental steps with the temple of Venus placed at the summit; a single complex conceived therefore for both sacred and profane purposes. And it is the first permanent theater in Rome.

From the time when Rome was a miserable grouping of huts, from the day when the walls of the square city and the first crude temples were erected on the Palatine and Capitoline hills, and wooden bridges were thrown across the Tiber and the statues of Clelia and Coclite were erected with rough, angular features, at the time when Rome is all marvels of marble and Caesar builds the temples of Happiness and Concord and massive stone arches straddle the rivers and gigantic aqueducts traverse the countryside, art has made enormous progress. Although there is not quite the purity that distinguishes Hellenic art and there are not the original characteristics of a people.

Art in Rome: from its origins to the Caesar's period
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But Rome is not Athens, it is not Alexandria, it is not Pergamum, it is not Selucia; this is because Rome does not command a people of a single lineage, it is now the capital of the world, it is a cosmopolitan metropolis, which welcomes everything into itself from the vanquished countries, and with men, customs, riches, religions, doctrines, art, literature, philosophy; Rome is a gigantic museum, an immense emporium, an enormous workshop, a universal kindergarten of men, of schools, of trends, of tastes; its art is a collection of styles, and it is the art of all conquered peoples. Everything becomes universal in Rome, but Rome on all this, however, has been able to breathe into it the genius of its power, to infuse it with the energy of its soul, to impress upon it the unmistakable and indelible mark of its strength.

When an Italian today travels along the coasts of Africa, from the Atlantic to the Nile, or when he or she ventures into central Europe, from Spain to Romania, or north from the Alps to Britain, he or she always has a thrill in his or her heart when in a corner of the large and small capitals (Vienna, Bonn, Cologne, London, Paris ...) he or she catches a glimpse of a theater, an arch, or a simple ruin of a column. The style is Roman, and it is not difficult to discern in it the soul of the Latin people as well.

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