by A Kladov

Ancient Roman art was once considered a mere copy of Greek art. However, recent reanalyses of Roman sculptures and paintings have shown how eclectically influenced they were. Modern scholars have pointed out that Greek models were not the only influence but also native Italic culture, Etruscan culture, and even Egyptian culture.

Ancient Roman Artwork: A Short Introduction

Art in ancient Rome has an interesting and long history. The Romans, initially influenced by Greek creativity, soon carved out their distinct artistic methods. Before diving into renowned artworks from this region, let's briefly explore Roman Art.

The Greek Impact

Greek influence

Roman artisans, recognized for their vast collection of Greek-inspired sculptures, crafted them from the first century onwards. These pieces, which still exist today, reflect remarkable talent. While there's a scarcity of Roman paintings, Pompeii's murals and Roman frescoes stand out.

The Romans borrowed from Greek predecessors, adopting techniques like mosaics, standalone statues, sketches, and pottery designs.

A mural depicts a feast. A gentleman sips from a dual-opening container known as a rhyton. Beside him, a lady wears a translucent outfit with golden mesh in her hair. Another woman hands over a tiny case to the duo. Silver vessels for blending drinks sit on the table. This imagery represents an idealized Greek social gathering in a Roman setting.

The Roman Empires were larger than the Greek ones, and the art and sculpture of ancient Rome reflect this assimilation.

Ancient Rome Paintings

Wall painting from Casa dell'efebo, Pompeii

Wall Painting From Casa Dell'efebo, Pompeii

The wall art of Pompeii stands out among the few remaining Roman masterpieces. These frescoes capture the daily life of the city before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Rome's underground burial sites have unveiled numerous Roman artworks, ranging from the early 3rd century to about 400 AD. Other Roman murals discovered in various parts of the empire have provided insights into ancient Roman artistry, such as the Fayum Mummy Images from Roman Egypt and the head portraits.

While they have a clear Egyptian touch, some of these pieces exhibit a Roman portrait style that's unique and not seen elsewhere today.

Roman Paintings: Topics and Focus

The Garden Painting of the Villa of Livia at Prima Porta in Rome (30-20 BC)

Roman artwork is varied, featuring both landscapes and individual portraits. They also showcase still images and daily life depictions, along with mythical creatures. Hellenistic art often presents scenes with pastoral settings, sacred buildings, and livestock.

They evoke the countryside. Landscapes represented the most artistic progress in Greek art and demonstrated a deep understanding of mathematical perspective.

Famous Roman Frescos and Roman Wall Paintings

Roman art is primarily preserved in the form of objects made of time-resistant materials, such as sculptures or mosaics. Roman art, especially Roman drawings and paintings, is a temporary medium. As a result, very few intact examples of Roman artwork remain. We will examine the best examples of Roman wall art and ancient Roman artwork.

The Villa of P. Fannius Synistor, Boscoreale

Cubiculum (bedroom) from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale

Cubiculum (Bedroom) From The Villa Of P. Fannius Synistor At Boscoreale

The highly ornate bedroom was originally a bed chamber before being buried by Mount Vesuvius' eruption in 79 A.D. The back wall shows a rocky landscape with balusters supporting a railing and a garden scene. A small cave is home to a water feature and a tiny figure of Hekate. In the middle of the wall, between two columns, there is a balcony wall with a golden landscape painted on it. A bowl of fruits is placed on top of the golden parapet.

Each wall is symmetrical on each side. A rectangular column projects from the wall to define the couch area. Each section portrays a different scene. For example, a painting depicts an enclosed courtyard where one can see statues, plants, and flowers, as well as circular domed rotundas.

The ornately decorated room alternates between beautiful landscape scenes and townscape paintings from ancient Rome.

The Wall Painting in Room H at the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor, Boscoreale

Wall painting from Room H of the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale

Wall painting from Room H of the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale

This painting shows a woman seated playing the traditional musical instrument kithara. This Roman fresco was painted in Room H of Villa Boscoreale. The room served as either a social room or a dining room. The wall paintings in this room were all derived from large-scale Greek traditional paintings known as megalographia. This Roman fresco depicts a voluptuous female clad in purple chiton and white himation, sitting on a stool, playing the kithara.

She wears earrings, a necklace, a bracelet with a medallion in the middle, and a gold headband.

A young girl stands behind the woman in a chiton without sleeves. Both are looking directly at the viewer, with her wearing golden jewelry. Scholars have recently suggested that the woman with the young girl may represent a princess from Macedonia or her younger sister or offspring. 

The ornate gold jewelry, the throne chair, and the highly decorated musical instruments give the impression that the woman and girl are a princess or queen from Macedonia.

Even though the subjects are unknown, this painting is still a great example of Hellenistic artwork.

Perseus, Andromeda, and the Imperial Villa of Boscotrecase in Landscape

Wall painting- Perseus and Andromeda in landscape, from the imperial villa at Boscotrecase

Perseus, Andromeda, And The Imperial Villa Of Boscotrecase In Landscape

The Roman fresco is located in the villa imperial of Agrippa Potumus, Boscotrecase. The fresco depicts two scenes from the myth about Andromeda. Perseus is about to rescue Andromeda from Ketos, a snake-like sea creature. Andromeda is standing in the middle of the panel with her arms extended as the bright green and blue creature extends its giant jaws towards Andromeda.

One hand is gracefully placed on a rock, while the other appears to be chained.

Perseus, with a lyre and wings on his shoes, flies to Andromeda. He is shown flying from the left.

Perseus is depicted on the hilly crag to the right, meeting Andromeda’s grandfather, which alludes to the mythical happy ending of the story. In the same villa room, another painting depicting love and the sea, Polyphemus & Galatea, is also found. The same green-blue color scheme is used in both paintings, giving the room an air of coolness.

West Wall of Room L at the Villa of P. Fannius, Boscoreale

Wall painting from the west wall of Room L of the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale

Wall painting from the west wall of Room L of the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale

The west wall of the peristyle is covered with this large fresco. A bull's face is thought to have once been in the middle of the wall. However, now, a painted version depicts a basket with a chord hanging from its mouth. A snake is crawling out of a bed made of ivory inside the basket.

This painting shows a wall made of painted masonry.

Five red slabs of stone are separated by painted gold pillars. A garland of fruits and leaves runs along the wall, from which a satyr's mask and cymbal hang. Above the garland, there are gold and green blocks with an entablature made of purple-colored friezes ornately illustrated in brackets that look like interlaced snakes.

Alexander Mosaic from the House of Faun

Alexander Mosaic From the House of Faun

Venus And Mars (1483) By Sandro Botticelli

This Roman mosaic originally came from the floor of Pompeii's House of Faun. It is a copy of Apelle's or Philoxenus's 4th-century BC painting of Eretria. This Roman art piece combines various artistic traditions, including Roman, Hellenistic, and Italic. The mosaic shows many figures in a battle over a wide area. Alexander is shown in profile in the left-hand half of the composition. In his right hand, he holds a javelin.

Roman-like facial characteristics are evident in Alexander's depiction. He displays a calm grin and a nose reminiscent of Roman design.

Alexander is portrayed donning armor featuring the face of the legendary Medusa. Medusa is a famed figure from Greek lore, believed to have the power to petrify those who looked at her.

Incorporating her face in this artwork might symbolize divine lineage. Alexander's face is unhelmeted for easy recognition. He seems to be looking towards Darius, the Persian leader. Both Darius and his driver dominate the scene on the right side.

Most Famous Paintings of Ancient Roman Mythology

Roman mythological art narrates tales about the early days and spiritual convictions of the Roman realm. These tales mirrored societal values and politics, playing a communal role. Recurring subjects included sacred ceremonies and legendary figures. Here are some notable artworks inspired by Roman myths.

Venus and Mars (1483) by Sandro Botticelli

Venus and Mars National Gallery

Venus And Mars (1483) By Sandro Botticelli

Born in 1445 in Florence, Italy, Sandro Botticelli was a standout painter from the early Italian Renaissance. He was renowned for his artworks showcasing myths and sacred entities. Two of Botticelli's acclaimed pieces are Primavera (1477-1482) and Birth of Venus (1485-1486).

Though the exact creation date is uncertain, it's thought that "Venus and Mars" was crafted between 1483 and 1485.

This artwork illustrates Mars, the Roman deity of conflict, and Venus, the love deity, unwinding in a woodland encircled by cheeky satyrs. Scholars suggest that the painting depicts a wedding celebration and is an allegory of beauty and valor. This painting is often interpreted as a sensual and divine love. It has been at the National Gallery since 1874.

Andrea Mantegna, an Italian Renaissance painter, was also a student of Roman archeology. He was born in Isola Di Carturo, Italy, in 1431 and was Jacopo's son-in-law. Mantegna created Parnassus in 1497. The painting is located in the Ducal Palace Mantua and was created for Isabella d'Este as part of a studio cabinet. Duke Charles I gave the painting to Cardinal Richelieu in 1627, along with the other paintings in the cabinet.

The artwork later found its place in the Louvre Museum after being previously owned by Louis XIV. The subject of the painting was recommended by the court writer Paride da Ceresara.

In the late 15th century, a poem by Battista Fiera was said to represent the Mount of Parnassus. It included the symbolism of Francesco II Gonzaga being Mars and Isabella being Venus.

Wedding Banquet between Cupid and Psyche by Raphael (1517)

Raffaello, banchetto nuziale

Wedding Banquet Between Cupid And Psyche By Raphael (1517)

Raphael is an Italian Renaissance artist born in Rome, Italy, in 1520. Experts highly praise his art for its skill in layout and clear structure. He's among a group of greats that features Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, and a few more. He died at 37 years old, but he has left a large body of work. One of his paintings, the Marriage Banquet of Cupid & Psyche, was painted in the Villa Farnesina.

Two large-format paintings illustrate the story in the vault panel. Raphael placed scenes on painted tapestries that appear to hang between garlands. In the right section of the artwork, Raphael showcases the assembly of deities. After Jupiter's approval, Mercury hands Psyche the elixir of mortality. The left section displays the wedding scene.

Raphael portrayed the private moments of the gods, highlighting their human traits despite their godly status.

Amor Vincit Omnia (1601) by Caravaggio

Amor Vincit Omnia-Caravaggio

Amor Vincit Omnia (1601) By Caravaggio

Born in Milan, Italy, on September 29, 1571, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was a notable Italian baroque artist. He mainly painted in Rome after spending time in Sicily and Malta. His art significantly impacted the early Baroque Movement, especially with its dramatic lighting and genuine depiction of human emotions and form.

This artwork demonstrates his artistic expertise and fresh take on age-old themes.

Amor Vincit Omnia translates to "love triumphs over all." The painting features the winged Roman Cupid or Amor.

Symbols of human achievements, such as musical instruments, writing tools, measuring devices, and protective gear, surround him. The phrase "love conquers all" from Virgil's Eclogues X.69 inspired this piece, which aims to represent the saying visually.

Some believe the painting depicts the residence of Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani, a noble who appreciated art and music. His family governed the island of Chios. Giustiniani was also known as an astronomer and builder.

The Feast of Venus by Peter Paul Rubens

Rubens - The Feast of Venus

Peter Paul Rubens - "The Feast Of Venus" (1636–1637)

Born in 1577 in Siegen, Nassau Dillenburg, within the Holy Roman Empire, Peter Paul Rubens was a renowned Flemish artist. Movement, emotions, and color characterized his highly influential Baroque art style. He was the most influential artist of the Flemish movement and painted portraits and nature, altarpieces, and historical scenes from mythology themes. European courts often commissioned his large-scale works.

The Feast of Venus represents a Roman tradition called Veneralia, a festival held in honor of Venus Verticordia.

The Worship of Venus originated from Philostratus of Lemnos, a Greek philosopher. Rubens created this painting after being inspired by the book The Worship of Venus. The book included descriptions of ancient art that inspired Rubens, as well as a book of Ovid's Fasti.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna is the place to view The Feast of Venus. The painting depicts children in cherub costumes dancing around a central figure set within a lush Eden-like landscape.

Saturn Devouring His Son by Francisco Goya

Francisco de Goya, Saturno devorando a su hijo (1819-1823)

Saturn Devouring His Son By Francisco Goya

Francisco Goya was a Spanish painter known for his Romanticism. His paintings, praised for reflecting historical events and current affairs, made him one of the most important Spanish artists of the late 18th century.

This composition, often referred to by his admirers as "the Last Old Master", was composed during his final years of career as he grew increasingly overwhelmed by his country's tragic Napoleonic Wars.

Saturn Devouring his Son is a depiction of Titan Cronus. Saturn was originally a Greek Myth, but in this area and time, it had been Romanized. Saturn, in the myth, is afraid that one of his children will one day overthrow him, so he eats their offspring shortly after birth.

This painting was on the wall of his home and was part of a collection called The Black Paintings. After his death, the paintings were transferred to canvas. These works of art are now on display at the Museo del Prado in Madrid.

Mars Being Disarmed by Venus by Jacques Louis David

Jacques-Louis David - Mars désarmé par Vénus

Jacques Louis David - "Mars Désarmé Par Vénus" (1824) 

Jacques-Louis David, a French master of Neoclassical historical painting, was a trendsetter in his day. Once a French Revolution supporter, he shifted his political view at the end of the XVIIIth century, becoming allied with Napoleon. In this period, he began to promote the Empire style, which was popular for a while.

Jacques-Loyd David painted "Mars Being Disarmed By Venus" in 1824 while he lived in Brussels. David died in an accident one year after he painted this masterpiece.

In this large painting, Venus, the goddess of love, is helped by Cupid, the three graces, and Mars, the god of war, as they remove his weapons and armor. He appears overwhelmed by the goddess and relaxed, as he cannot resist her.

David is said to have taken inspiration from the performers at the Theatre de la Monnaie. Afterward, the artwork was showcased in a Paris gallery, where it garnered significant appreciation for its artistic excellence. Since 2002, it's been exhibited at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Belgium.

Ancient Rome Paintings

Rome was both a political hub and an artistic heartland. Numerous artists flocked to Rome to learn and take assignments. They often painted captivating images representing the region. Here, we'll introduce you to some Roman scenic paintings by various artists.

Ancient Rome (1757) by Giovanni Paolo Panini

Giovanni Paolo Panini (Italian, Piacenza 1691–1765 Rome) - Ancient Rome

Ancient Rome (1757) By Giovanni Paolo Panini

Born in 1691 in Piacenza, within the Duchy Parma, Giovanni Paolo Panini was a part of the Holy Roman Empire. He gained recognition for his depictions of Rome's landscapes. His fascination with Rome's age-old structures inspired his paintings. He's notably recognized for his Vedute artworks showcasing collections of Roman scenes. His creations blend genuine and imaginative structures, a style termed capricci.

The title "Ancient Rome" was used by Panini for three almost identical yet distinct pieces. These companion pieces were crafted for his supporter, Comte de Saintainville, during the 1750s.

These pendants depicted many of the most beautiful sculptures and architectural structures from ancient Rome, including the Farnese Hercules (also known as Farnese Hercules), the Colosseum, and Apollo Belvedere. Trajan's Column and the Pantheon were also included. Behind Stainville’s chair is also the artist, and the patron is a standing figure holding a book.

The Obelisk (1783) by Hubert Robert

Hubert Robert - The Obelisk - 102-1957

The Obelisk (1783) by Hubert Robert

Hubert Robert was a French painter who was born in Paris in 1733. He was a French painter of the Romanticism School. His landscapes and capriccio-style paintings, which depict semi-fictitious scenes from Roman and French ruins, were his most notable works. He spent 11 years living in Rome, even though he was originally from Paris. He studied first at the French Academy of Rome and then created works for collectors like the abbe de SaintNon.

Obelisk, originally intended to be displayed in a salon at Chateau de Mereville, was painted in 1783. This painting shows a scene from the perspective inside a large hall, looking out at a scene heavily inspired by ancient Rome's architecture. It is yet another example of how real architecture is combined with imagined places.

The obelisk is placed in a courtyard that could be between two buildings. When you consider the size of his people, the interior of the Temple looks enormous. The buildings are Roman-styled, even though the scene is a fabrication.

Nero’s Torches(1876) Henryk Siemiradzki

Siemiradski Fackeln

Nero’s Torches(1876) Henryk Siemiradzki

Henryk Hektor Semiradzki, a Polish Academic Artist, was born in Romee in 1843. His paintings of ancient Rome, Greece, and biblical scenes were highly regarded. Henryk began studying at the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg after graduating from the University with a degree specializing in sciences. In 1872, he moved to Rome and opened a studio on Via Gaeta.

Also called "Candlesticks for Christianity", Henryk Semiradzki painted the "Nero's Torches" in 1876, just four years after he built his Via Gaeta studio.

The painting depicts a scene in which a group of Christians are about to be burnt alive for being found guilty of causing the Great Fire of Rome. People from all social classes were present at the burning that was going to happen in front of Domus Aurea in 64 AD, including Nero, the Emperor. The painting toured Europe after its first showing at the Accademia San Luca, Rome, in 1876. It was exhibited in Prague, Berline Vienna, Lviv, Munich, London, and Paris. Many art critics and academics praised it.

Few Roman paintings exist today, compared with the amount of ancient records that claim to have existed. There are many Roman buildings and statues that can still be found, but the paintings of Rome are rare. We have been able, thanks to the Roman frescos in Pompeii and the wall paintings of Rome, to get a visual representation of Roman life.