Chapter 6 Etruscan and Roman Art


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Chapter 6 Etruscan and Roman Art

  1. Etruscan Apollo

Etruscan Temple (supplementary)

Etruscan Sarcophagus

  1. Augustus of Primaporta

Denarius with portrait of Julius Caesar (supplementary)

Middle-Aged Flavian Woman (supplementary)

  1. Pont de Gard (engineering, architecture – see Arch, Vault, Dome)

Roman Architectural Orders (supplementary)

  1. Ara Pacis Augustae

  2. The Pantheon

Flavian Ampitheatre (Colosseum)

  1. Arch of Constantine

  2. Peristyle Garden, House of the Vetti

Cityscape, House of Publius Fannius Synistor (supplementary)

Portrait of a Married Couple (supplementary

The Romans took on the themes of proportion, balance and ideal beauty developed in Greece and one of the most important codifications survives as Vitruvius’ “Ten Books on Architecture.” Vitruvius was Roman (born c. 80–70 BC, died after c. 15 BC) and an architect and an engineer.
Vitruvius's theories of beauty

  • Vitruvius’s most famous work is entitled Ten Books on Architecture, and was written in approximately 20-30 BC. It is the only text on the subject of architecture to survive antiquity. It was also one of the first texts in history to draw the connection between the architecture of the body and that of the building.

  • Vitruvius believed that an architect should focus on three central themes when preparing a design for a building: firmitas (strength), utilitas (functionality), and venustas (beauty).
  • Vitruvius thought that a timeless notion of beauty could be learnt from the 'truth of nature', that nature's designs were based on universal laws of proportion and symmetry that had been discovered by the Ancient Greeks.

  • He showed that the 'ideal' human body fitted precisely into both a circle and a square, and he thus illustrated the link that he believed existed between perfect geometric forms and the perfect body. In this way, the body was seen as a living rulebook, containing the fixed and faultless laws set down by nature.


  1. Etruscan Apollo

Etruscan Temple (supplementary)

Etruscan Sarcophagus

Before the Romans came the Etruscans. Who were the Etruscans?

The Etruscans were the people who predated the Roman ruling lineage in Italy. The controlled north and central Italy from around 800-500 BCE, when Rome became the powerful city-state and expanded its boundaries, its ruling class taking over.

How did Etruscan architecture influence/act as a precursor to Roman architecture and how did it connect to Greek examples like the Parthenon?

- We rely on Vitruvius for our knowledge of Etruscan temples that would have been built with the same post-and-lintel construction as contemporaneous Greek temples

- built on stylobate platform

- Etruscan temples however had equal division between open and closed space – Greek temples have mostly closed.

Etruscan sculpture had ties to contemporaneous Greek works too.

  • similarities between Greek kouros, although this figure is clothed and moving – he has an “Archaic smile”

  • Sarcophagus was an attempt at lifelike figures

 So, there are precursors to the Roman style in the art of the Etruscans, and the Etruscans were looking to Greek architecture and art for some of their formal and narrative inspiration.

This continued as the Roman Empire spread, causing the downfall of the Greeks. The Romans brought Greek Art and Greek artists into their traditions of art.

  • Romans admired Greek art

  • Used Greek designs and Greek orders in their architecture

  • In 146 BC, they stripped the Greek city of Corinth of all of its art treasures and shipped them back to Rome

  • However, Romans develop their own artistic language and therefore elements are different, or there are some different emphases than in Greek art and architecture


So, who were the Ancient Romans?

  • Latin speaking inhabitants of Rome began to develop into a formidable political power

  • Who are ruled by the Etruscans, but the Romans overthrew them in 509 BCE, forming a Republic centered around Rome

  • Romans unified Italy, and expanded its borders to extend throughout the entire Mediterranean (show map)

  • They were empire builders not just as great warriors with highly organized armies, but built roads, sewage systems, bridges and aqueducts, some of which still remain whole today.

Slide: Timeline

509 BCE – Rome overthrows the Etruscan Kings

275 BCE – Rome controls the whole of Italy

146 BCE – Rome defeats Carthage (N. Africa)

150 BCE – Rome takes control of Macedonia and Greece

44 BCE – Rome conquers Gaul (France)

31 BCE – Augustus defeats Mark Anthony and Cleopatra in Egypt

From 509 BCE Rome was governed by a King who was advised by his Senate, a group of men drawn from the wealthy elite.

The Republic exists from 509-27 BCE –

  • Rome was governed by kings and an advisory body of leading citizens (senate)

  • Class was divided into two segments: patricians (upper class) and plebeians (lower class)

  • The republic was an oligarchy: govmt ruled by a small group of aristocrats. Lasted about 450 years

Denarius with portrait of Julius Caesar (supplementary)

  • This coin/denarius shows a portrait of Julius Caesar, the first Roman leader to put his portrait on a coin – it reads Caesar, dictator forever”

  • The kind of sentiment that contradicts the type of democracy of the senate, and a prefiguration of what would happen with his nephew Octavia, or Augustus as he became known

  • At the end of the first century, when the infamous Roman general and statesman (first to conquer Britain, tried to take over senate) Julius Caesar was murdered, his adopted heir Octavian became the new ruler, eventually becoming so powerful that he was conferred the title of “Augustus” meaning exalted or sacred, effectively consolidating power of state and religion in one person – now known as an Emperor and not a king.

We’re going to look at two monuments of his time, the statue Augustus of Primaporta that Spivey looked at and the Ara Pax Augustae.

2. Augustus of Primaporta

Middle-Aged Flavian Woman (supplementary)
Republican period sculpture

  • ancestor veneration, the practice of paying homage to those who have gone before you, leads to believable images based on careful observation
  • Unlike Greek sculpture, there is a focus at this time on naturalism, individualism - portrait-likenesses rather than ideals

  • death masks for deceased relatives

  • Roman portraits sought to balance a sense of idealism while taking a naturalistic approach. The woman depicted exemplifies this balance. The sculptor shows a high attention to anatomical detail and proportionality. According to Stokstad, even though the woman shown is remarkably realistic in her wrinkles and sagging skin, she still represents a hint of idealism. Her aged face and features show signs of an accomplished life and virtue.

There are precursors for Augustus’ statue

Aulus Metellus

  • the orator: Roman official’s name is inscribed on the hem of his garment in Etruscan letters

  • depicts a man addressing a gathering: his arm outstretched and lightly raised, a pose expressive of authority and persuasiveness

  • leather boots and a toga (folded and draped garment), dress characteristic of Roman official

Augustus of Primaporta, Early empire - 27 BCE -96 CE

  • 1st Roman emperor was born Octavius in 63 BC, adopted by Julius Caesar at age 18

  • Julius Caesar murdered by a group of conspirators; Octavian steps up

  • Vanquished warring internal factions, and brought peace to the provinces

  • By 27 BCE, the senate had conferred on him title of Augustus

  • 12 CE: given title of Pontifex Maximus (high priest)

  • Became empire’s highest religious official as well as its political leader
  • Led the empire for nearly 60 years, efficient but bloody rule, extended period of stability, peace, and economic prosperity known as Pax Romana (Roman peace), which lasted over 200 years from 27 BC to 180 AD.

  • Died in 14 CE

  • Augustus of Primaporta was discovered in Livia’s Villa (his wife’s villa) at Primaporta, near Rome

  • Imperial portraiture of propaganda

  • 6’8”: larger than life

  • adapted the orator’s gesture from the Aulus Metellus

  • combined this with the pose and ideal proportions developed by Greek sculpture

  • Wears a cuirass (torso armor)

  • Holds a commander’s baton

  • The breastplate center depicts a barbarian man in traditional Parthian dress, who is giving a military standard topped with an eagle to a man with a wolf. This figure has variously been interpreted as Tiberius who commissioned this statue in honor of Augustus, Augustus himself, Romulus, or the personification of the Roman army. Apart from these figures in the mid-ground, the rest of the breastplate is a cosmic setting populated by various gods.

  • Feet are bare, suggesting his elevation to divine status after death

  • Less individualized that portraits during the republican era

  • He lived to 70, but here he is vigorous and young

  • Benign ruler, touched by the gods, who governs by reason and persuasion, not autocratic power or weapons

Transition: to facilitate the development of this empire, he initiated unprecedented building projects – this becomes a signature move for the Romans – BUILD, BUILD, BUILD
  • central administrative and legal’s centers, recreational facilities (racetracks, stadiums), theaters, public baths, roads, bridges

  • aqueducts (Pont du Gard, Nimes, Late 1st C BCE)

  • middle class housing

  • vast and complex network of roads and bridges

  • many modern European highways still follow the lines laid down by Roman engineers, and Roman era foundations underlies the streets of many cities

  1. Pont du Gard (engineering, architecture – see Arch, Vault, Dome)

Roman Architectural Orders (supplementary)

  • The round arch was used before Etruscans and Romans, but they made it their signature architectural statement.

  • The aqueduct Pont du Gard, built probably during Augustus’ lifetime, is testament to this aesthetic being put to practical use.

  • Built to allow the aqueduct of Nîmes (which is almost 50 km long) to cross the Gard river.

  • The Roman architects and hydraulic engineers who designed this bridge, which stands almost 50 m high and is on three levels – the longest measuring 275 m – created a technical as well as an artistic masterpiece.

  • See UNESCO video in class.

  1. Ara Pacis Augustae

What is it? A Roman sacrificial altar enclosed in a screen of Parian marble carved in high relief with allegorical and ceremonial scenes ornamented with plant motifs.
In Augustus's own words,

“When I returned from Spain and Gaul, in the consulship of Tiberius Nero and Publius Quintilius, after successful operations in those provinces, the Senate voted in honor of my return the consecration of an altar to Pax Augusta in the Campus Martius, and on this altar it ordered the magistrates and priests and Vestal Virgins to make annual sacrifice.”

  • Built by Augustus to commemorate the defeat of the Gauls and the Hispanics

  • Frieze = family portrait, different from the timelessness of Greek friezes/sculptures

  • Agrippa – would have been king but died before Aug; Livia, Aug wife; Tib- emperor after Aug.

  • The long friezes of the Ara Pacis contain figures advancing towards the opening of the front wall who participate in a state of thanksgiving to celebrate the Peace created by Augustus.

  • These friezes include flowers and vegetation, representing more than fifty identified species, and operate symbolically, suggesting rebirth and fruitfulness associated with Augustus' reign.

  • The friezes run along the lower sides of the enclosure. Scholars believe it would have been enhanced with color. Scrolls unfold from the acanthus at the bottom. (Acanthus was often a symbol for regeneration.)

Augustus’ return from Gaul marked the essential completion of his great consolidation of Roman authority throughout the Empire.

  • In Antiquity, the Ara Pacis was a working altar. Sacrifices involve the slaughter of large animals, and blood and other fluids had to be washed out of the altar enclosure, so there were drain holes in the interior floor.

  • It was both an enduring symbol of the peace Augustus had brought about, however bloody and backhanded, part of a greater complex of Augustinian civic buildings and also a functioning sacrificial altar, to ensure by the continued sacrifice of animals to the Gods that the peace would remain.
  • Contemporary history - It’s restoration was begun by Mussolini: Mussolini identified with Augustus.

  1. Pantheon, c. 126 CE, Rome

Flavian Ampitheatre (Colosseum)

One of the most celebrated temple buildings is the Pantheon.

  • Commissioned by Marcus Agrippa as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome

  • Rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in about 126 AD.

  • The inscription across the front of the Pantheon says, M.AGRIPPA.L.F.COS.TERTIUM.FECIT, meaning "Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, having been consul three times, built it."

  • However, archaeological excavations have shown that the Pantheon of Agrippa had been completely destroyed, and Emperor Hadrian was responsible for rebuilding the Pantheon on the site of Agrippa's original temple.

  • There had been two earlier buildings on the same spot, for which the new Pantheon was a replacement


  • Exterior: circular with a portico of three ranks of huge granite Corinthian columns under a pediment.

  • Interior: rotunda floor, which is under a coffered, concrete dome, with a central opening (oculus) to the sky.

  • Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon's dome is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome.

  • The height to the oculus and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 43.3 metres (142 ft).

  • It is one of the best preserved of all Roman buildings. It has been in continuous use throughout its history, and since the 7th century, the Pantheon has been used as a Roman Catholic church dedicated to "St. Mary and the Martyrs" but informally known as "Santa Maria Rotonda”

  • The interior of the dome was possibly intended to symbolize the arched vault of the heavens. The oculus at the dome's apex and the entry door are the only sources of light in the interior. Throughout the day, the light from the oculus moves around this space in a sort of reverse sundial effect.

  • The oculus also serves as a cooling and ventilation method. During storms, a drainage system below the floor handles the rain that falls through the oculus.

  • The dome features sunken panels (coffers), in five rows of twenty-eight. This evenly spaced layout was difficult to achieve and, it is presumed, had symbolic meaning, either numerical, geometric, or lunar.

  • In antiquity, the coffers may have contained bronze stars, rosettes, or other ornaments.

  • Circles and squares form the unifying theme of the interior design. The checkerboard floor pattern contrasts with the concentric circles of square coffers in the dome.


6. TRUMPHAL ARCH, Arch of Constantine the Great (c. 315 AD dedicated)

  • A triumphal arch is a monumental structure in the shape of an archway

  • one or more arched passageways, often designed to span a road.

  • The Romans were the first to use this form in any repeated way, from the period of the Republic onward

  • However, practices changed significantly at the start of the imperial period when the first Roman Emperor Augustus decreed that only emperors would be granted triumphs – no more measly generals getting to have one!

  • The triumphal arch changed from being a personal monument to being an essentially propagandistic one, serving to announce and promote the presence of the ruler and the laws of the state.

  • Arches were not necessarily built as entrances, but – unlike many modern triumphal arches – they were often erected across roads and were intended to be passed through, not round.
  • two massive piers connected by an arch, crowned with a flat entablature on which a statue might be mounted or which bears commemorative inscriptions.

  • often decorated with carvings, sculpted reliefs and dedications.

  • More elaborate triumphal arches may have multiple archways.

  • used to commemorate victorious generals or significant public events such as the founding of new colonies, the construction of a road or bridge, the death of a member of the imperial family or the accession of a new emperor.

 You’ve seen this before, in the ANE with the Ishtar Gate, and you see it today – Napoleon has one in Paris (Arc de Triomphe) and we have one in Brooklyn near Prospect Park!
This huge triumphal arch (21 meters high), with three barrel-vaulted passageways, was erected to commemorate Constantine's victory over Maxentius, who contested his right to the imperial seat at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312.

  • It is just west of the Coliseum and dwarfs the nearby Arch of Titus.

  • Decoration on the Arch of Constantine - The A o C incorporates recycled sculpture from earlier monuments like Trajan’s Forum,

  • Some suggest this is because artistic creativity and technical skill had fallen off by the time period of Constantine

  • Perhaps more so because of a desire to associate Constantine with the "good emperors" Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius, whose monuments were cannibalized for sculpture.

  • The faces of these emperors were recut to the features of Constantine on the arch.

Constantine thought his victory was due to his and his mother’s Christian beliefs and so passed an edict of religious toleration that stopped persecution of Christians while also allowing for other cults to remain and flourish.

  • And so Constantine is baptized on his deathbed and Christianity becomes part of the creation story of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.

  • What is interesting in terms of our history, focusing on art, is the Roman excitement over the pagan “classical” ideal of beauty eventually becomes part of the Christian rhetoric of depiction over the next 1000 years

  • So by the time you come to the Renaissance in the 14th and 15th centuries in Italy (same place as the Romans of Antiquity), “classical beauty” is quite literally dug up in service of Christian churches, altarpieces and glorifying a very different God than Athena or Dionysus.

  1. Peristyle Garden, House of the Vetti

Cityscape, House of Publius Fannius Synistor (supplementary)

Portrait of a Married Couple (supplementary)

(See MIT for text on the Vetti, Met Museum for text on House of P.F.S)
So, the Romans used huge architectural monuments to convey ideas about rulership, power and civic life.
They also did very practical things in terms of engineering (following on from the Greeks), like organize water movement from one place to another, sewers etc and figure out how to erect large buildings form a structural engineering point of view.
They also, of course, had domestic spaces:

  • The House of the Vettii is a relatively typical example of a home built during the Roman Period in Pompeii. The house was owned by two relatives, Aulus Vettius Restitutus and Aulus Vettius Conviva. Most historic works mention that they were both freedman of some sort and were wealthy.

  • The House of the Vettii provides a detailed look into the transition that the city of Pompeii was undergoing in the mid-first century A.D. After a large earthquake in A.D. 62 many of the older elite families moved out of Pompeii to other towns. This wealth vacuum led to the rise of the "nouveau-riche", often wealthy freedmen pursuing power and stature

  • The Vettii brothers were a prime example of this new class that arrived in Pompeii with the earthquake rubble. The very fact that these two brothers were able to rise from the status of slaves to wealthy merchants speaks to the social mobility within their society.

  • It is theorized that the Vettii brothers made their fortune as wine merchants and were then able to essentially purchase the elite status of freeborn aristocrats.

  • Along with the rise of the wealthy freedmen in Pompeii, a notable decline in moral standards was could be observed. This is evidenced by the graphic and sexual nature of the artwork that dominated the post-earthquake decorations. The House of the Vettii contains several such graphic paintings and sculptures.

  • Also present in these house are paintings that express the desire of the nouveau rich to show off their new social position by depicting various mythological and cult images for their guests (as seen in the slide).

  • The layout and orientation of this particular house also demonstrates the semi-public nature of Roman houses. While private rooms, such as the women's rooms and the servant quarters, were present in the construction, several of the large entertaining rooms also served as places to conduct business. 

  • From early times the Romans had felt the artistic influence of Greece. In 146 BC, when Greece was conquered by Rome, Greek art became inseparably interwoven with that of Rome. "Greece, conquered, led her conqueror captive".

  • Not just imitators, though the Etrsuscans learned lots from the Greeks during the time of the Greek empire.

  • POWER: Roman art was used for the expression of great and noble ideas and for decoration and ostentation..

  • REALISM: Roman sculptors did show originality; they produced many vigorous realistic portrait statues, or the reliefs which adorn such structures as the Arch of Titus and the Column of Trajan, commemorating great events in these emperors' reigns.

  • PROPORTION: The Romans were both the transmitters of Ancient Greek Art through their copies, and the masters of a tradition of art that conveyed pomp, circumstance, and power. Vitruvius, and architecture like the Pantheon, are testament to this.


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