The history of art during the Greco-Roman period shows that the art created by the Romans owed a stylistic debt to the ancient Greek civilization. The works of art created during this time period are part of the Classical period. This period of art has influenced artistic styles from the early Renaissance until the present day.
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According to author Lois Fichner-Rathus in “Understanding Art,” the time in the history of art known as the Greco-Roman period represented the period when Roman art absorbed Greek art and its influences. The civilizations of Greece and Rome overlapped one another, when Rome established a protectorate over Greece that lasted almost 500 years. During this time, Romans sought originals or had copies made of Greek artwork.
What art historians know about Greek painting, they know because of Roman wall paintings and murals. Although historians know that Greek artists made paintings, they were destroyed by the ravages of time; only painted objects remain. However, historians also know that Roman painting, like the rest of Roman art, found some of its influences in Greek painting. Some of the greatest examples of Roman mural paintings were unearthed by archeologists with the discovery of the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Art historians call Roman art the art of realism. Unlike the Greeks, who portrayed human perfection in their sculptures and other art work, Roman sculptures showed every line and imperfection on the face of the subject (unless they were portraying idealized faces of the emperors). According to Fichner-Rathus, this is attributed to the Roman practice of making death masks, whose function was similar to the modern practice of keeping photographs of loved ones. Initially the Romans constructed these masks from wax but later they made the masks from bronze or terracotta. These sculptures were not statements about the human condition but rather a record of a person’s existence.
Roman architecture stands as one of the Roman Empire’s lasting achievements. Like the sculpture of the day, Roman architecture was stylistically influenced by the Greeks as well as the Etruscans but the Romans made their own significant contributions. Most notably, Roman architecture did not have the feeling of sculpture as Greek buildings did. Rather, Roman design embraced both function and visual appeal.
Although Roman art shares much similarity to Greek art, differences do exist. Roman art tends to be much more eclectic than Greek art. Additionally, Roman art employed the technique of realism, while Roman architecture remains some of the greatest examples of buildings that man has ever known.