Roman art in Italy (500 BC -AD 500)

Where to find the best ancient Roman sculpture, mosaics, and frescoes in Italy

As Rome gained ascendancy on the Italian peninsula in the 3C BC, their conservative and static style of carving, architecture, and painting would supplant the more naturalized and dynamic nature of the Etruscan arts.

The Romans copied heavily from the Greeks, often ad nauseum as they cranked out countless facsimiles of Greek sculptures to decorate Roman patrician homes and gardens. Bronze portraiture, a technique with Greek and Etruscan roots, was polished to photographic perfection. This style is often called Hellenistic ("like the Greeks").

Their most prevalent legacy is perhaps in the grid layout that still shows through the street plans of the retirement towns they built for their soldiers, such as Florence and Lucca.

Where to find Ancient Roman art in Italy

The Romans left us many Hellenistic bronze and marble statues, innumerable fragments of decorative friezes and other reliefs, and several theaters and baths in varying stages of decay.

Along with an army of also-ran statues and busts gracing most archaeological collections in Italy, there are a few stand-outs. In Rome we can count the marble bas-reliefs on the Arch of Constantine, the sculpture and mosaic collections at the Museo Nazionale Romano, and the gilded equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius at the Capitoline Museums.

The mosaics in the ancient villa of Sicily's Piazza Armerina are the most extensive in the world. Also don't miss the Alexander mosaic from Pompeii now at Naples' archaeological museum, and the Roman mosaic flooring at the excavations of Aquileia in the Friuli.

Although painting got rather short shrift in ancient Rome (it was used primarily for decorative purposes), bucolic frescoes, the technique of painting on wet plaster, adorned the walls of the wealthy in Rome, though nothing significant survives in the north of Italy. Pompeii's Villa dei Misteri frescoes of religious rites are remarkably well preserved and expertly done.

Where to find Roman art art in Italy

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"The Tuscan Maremma" (1894) by Giovanni Fattori (Photo Public Domain)

The Galleria d'Arte Moderna is a collection of works by Tuscan macchiaoli (Impressionsts) and other modern art in the princely Renaissance Pitti Palace

 

The art of early Christians was Roman in style, but its themes were starting to explore the figures and motifs that would soon become familiar

 

While the Neoclassical rediscovers the clean Classical lines of antiquity, the Romantics went for the heroic, historic, and melodramatic

 
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The Chiaramonti gallery (Photo by Jorge Cortell)

Loads of ancient Roman statues in the Vatican

 
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