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Roman Art and Architecture - History.
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Roman Art and Architecture - History.
I

INTRODUCTION

Roman Art and Architecture, the art and architecture of ancient Rome and its empire, which at its height extended from the British Isles to the Caspian Sea. The earliest
Roman art is generally associated with the overthrow of the Etruscan kings and the establishment of the Republic in 509

BC.

The end of Roman art and the beginning of

medieval art is usually said to occur with the conversion of the emperor Constantine the Great to Christianity and the transfer of the capital of the empire from Rome to
Constantinople (present-day ?stanbul) in

AD

330. Roman styles and even pagan Roman subjects continued, however, for centuries, often in Christian guise (see Early

Christian Art and Architecture).
Roman art is traditionally divided into two main periods, art of the Roman Republic and art of the Roman Empire (from 27

BC

on), with subdivisions corresponding to the

major emperors or to imperial dynasties. When the Republic was founded, the term Roman art was virtually synonymous with the art of the city of Rome, which still
bore the stamp of its Etruscan past (Etruscan Civilization). Gradually, as the Roman Empire expanded throughout Italy and the Mediterranean and as the Romans
became exposed to other artistic cultures, notably that of ancient Greece, Roman art shook off its dependence on Etruscan art; during the last two centuries before
Christ a distinctive Roman manner of building, sculpting, and painting emerged.
Nevertheless, because of the extraordinary geographical extent of the Roman Empire and the number of diverse populations encompassed within its boundaries, the art
and architecture of the Romans was always eclectic and is characterized by varying styles attributable to differing regional tastes and the diverse preferences of a wide
range of patrons. Roman art is not just the art of the emperors, senators, and aristocracy, but of all the peoples of Rome's vast empire, including middle-class business
people, freedmen, slaves, and soldiers in Italy and the provinces.
Curiously, although examples of Roman sculptures, paintings, buildings (see architecture), and decorative arts survive in great numbers, few names of Roman artists
and architects are recorded. In general, Roman monuments were designed to serve the needs of their patrons rather than to express the artistic temperaments of their
makers.

II

ARCHITECTURE

A clear picture of Roman architecture can be drawn from the impressive remains of ancient Roman public and private buildings and from contemporaneous writings,
such as De Architectura (trans. 1914), the ten-volume architectural treatise compiled by Vitruvius toward the close of the 1st century

A

BC.

Roman City Planning

The typical Roman city of the later Republic and empire had a rectangular plan and resembled a Roman military camp with two main streets--the cardo (north-south)
and the decumanus (east-west)--a grid of smaller streets dividing the town into blocks, and a wall circuit with gates. Older cities, such as Rome itself, founded before
the adoption of regularized city planning, could, however, consist of a maze of crooked streets.
The focal point of the city was its forum, usually situated at the center of the city at the intersection of the cardo and the decumanus. The forum, an open area
bordered by colonnades with shops, functioned as the chief meeting place of the town. It was also the site of the city's primary religious and civic buildings, among them
the Senate house, records office, and basilica.
The basilica was a roofed hall with a wide central area--the nave--flanked by side aisles, and it often had two or more stories. In Roman times basilicas were the site of
business transactions and legal proceedings, but the building type was adapted in Christian times as the standard form of Western church with an apse and altar at the
end of the long nave. The first basilicas were put up in the early 2nd century
BC)

B

BC

in Rome's own Forum, but the earliest well-preserved example of the basilicas (circa 120

is found at Pompeii.

Roman Temples

The chief temple of a Roman city, the capitolium, was generally located at one end of the forum. The standard Roman temple was a blend of Etruscan and Greek
elements; rectangular in plan, it had a gabled roof, a deep porch with freestanding columns, and a frontal staircase giving access to its high plinth, or platform. The
traditional Greek orders, or canons (Doric, Ionic, Corinthian), were usually retained, but the Romans also developed a new type of column capital called the composite
capital, a mixture of Ionic and Corinthian elements. An excellent example of the canonical temple type is the Maison-Carrée (circa

AD

4) in Nîmes, France.

Roman temples were erected not only in the forum, but throughout the city and in the countryside as well; many other types are known. One of the most influential in
later times was the type used for the Pantheon (AD 118-28) in Rome, consisting of a standard gable-roofed columnar porch with a domed cylindrical drum behind it
replacing the traditional rectangular main room, or cella. Simpler temples based on Greek prototypes, with round cellas and an encircling colonnade, such as that built
about 75

C

BC

at Tivoli, near Rome, were also popular.

Markets and Shops

Recreational buildings and shops were dispersed throughout the Roman city. The shops were usually one-room units (tabernae) opening onto the sidewalks; many,
including combination mill-bakeries, can still be seen at Pompeii and elsewhere. Sometimes an entire unified complex of shops was constructed, such as the markets
built in the reign (AD 98-117) of Trajan on the Quirinal Hill (Monte Quirinal) in Rome and still standing, which incorporated scores of tabernae on several levels and a
large vaulted two-story hall.

D

Theaters and Amphitheaters

Roman theaters first appeared in the late Republic. They were semicircular in plan and consisted of a tall stage building abutting a semicircular orchestra and tiered
seating area (cavea). Unlike Greek theaters, which were situated on natural slopes, Roman theaters were supported by their own framework of piers and vaults and
thus could be constructed in the hearts of cities. Theaters were popular in all parts of the empire; impressive examples may be found at Orange (early 1st century
in France, and Sabratha (late 2nd century

AD),

AD),

in Libya.

Amphitheaters (literally, double theaters) were elliptical in plan with a central arena, where gladiatorial and animal combats took place (Gladiator), and a surrounding
seating area built on the pattern of Roman theaters. The earliest known amphitheater (75
approximately 50,000 spectators, roughly the capacity of today's large sports stadiums.

BC)

is at Pompeii, and the grandest, Rome's Colosseum (AD70-80), held

Racecourses or circuses were also built in many cities for holding chariot races and horse races. Rome's circus-shaped Piazza Navona occupies the site of one that was
built during the reign (AD 81-96) of the emperor Domitian. The largest circus in Rome, the Circus Maximus, held about 200,000 spectators.

E

Public Baths

Large cities and small towns alike also had public baths (thermae); under the Republic they were generally made up of a suite of dressing rooms and bathing chambers
with hot- , warm- , and cold-water baths (caldaria, tepidaria, frigidaria) alongside an exercise area, the palaestra. The baths (75

BC)

near Pompeii's forum are an

excellent example of the early type. Under the empire these comparatively modest structures became progressively grander; such late examples as the Baths of
Caracalla (about

AD

217) in Rome also incorporated libraries, lecture halls, and vast vaulted public spaces elaborately decorated with statues, mosaics, paintings, and

stuccos.

F

Public Works

Among the other great public building projects of the Romans, the most noteworthy are the network of bridges and roads that facilitated travel throughout the empire,
and the aqueducts that brought water to the towns from mountain sources (Pont du Gard, late 1st century

G

BC

or early 1st century

AD,

near Nîmes).

Residences

Although the public buildings were generally the grandest and costliest structures in the city, most of the area of a Roman town was occupied by private residences.

G1

The Domus

Family dwellings then as today were built in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, but the Roman domus usually displayed the preference for symmetry around an axis
that characterizes most of Roman public architecture as well. Early houses dating from the 4th and 3rd centuries

BC

seem to have been built on patterns going back to

Etruscan times.
The standard domus italica, or early Republican house, consisted of an entrance corridor (fauces), a main room (atrium) open to the sky with a central basin for the
collection of rainwater, a series of small bedrooms (cubicula), an office area (tablinum), a dining room (triclinium), a kitchen (culina), and perhaps a small garden
(hortus). The front rooms of the house might open onto the street and serve as shops.
During the late Republic and early empire, Roman houses became ever more elaborate. Greek-style columns were installed in the atrium, the old hortus was expanded
and framed by a colonnade (peristyle), and the decoration became quite lavish. The wealthiest city dwellings might occupy an entire block, as did the so-called House of
the Faun at Pompeii, built early in the 2nd century

G2

BC.


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