There are many similarities between Greek and Roman, but there are specific details that make them distinct from one another. Romans admired Greek artwork. Romans learned their techniques based on Greek culture, as a result of them conquering Greece. They both used white marble to create their sculptures; however, Greek artists used more bronze compared to the Roman artists. Greek sculptures were sometimes painted by the artists because they did not like how cold the white tone of the marble can be.
The Greeks usually based their sculptures off of their gods or goddesses they worshipped like Zeus. They would amplify the sculptures’ features to make them look unreal and godly. They wanted the figure to appear youthful and strong. Greek artists studied human anatomy to figure out the right proportions they wanted to use for the best-looking sculptures. They based their sculptures’ bodies off of athletes during the time. Their athletes did not wear uniforms like ours do today. This is why Greek statues are primarily nude. The Romans made their sculptures more realistic looking without any need for enhancements. Their sculptures were based off of how the individual was seen in real life. They focused more on realism instead of idealism like Greek artists. They sculpted portraits of important people like leaders. Roman sculptures consisted of also their gods sometimes like Jupiter. Many Greek sculptures are centered around the ideas of athletics and mythology, which is different from Roman sculptures. Roman artists focused more on historical events, significant people, and their gods.
This image shows how the Greek sculpture on the left is more perfected compared to the rigid, Roman sculpture on the right:
A famous Greek sculptor was named Phidias. He made decisions on how statues in the Pantheon would be created and the style they would be influenced by. Some of the pieces in the Pantheon are thought to be his. He created extortionary works like his gold and marble sculpture of Athena as well as Zeus, which are no longer present. The remnants of his sculptures can be seen in the British Museum. Other well-known, Greek artists include: Lysippus, Praxiteles, and Scopas. Roman sculptors copied the Greek statues, and some may say they were not imaginative; however, they were able to create some amazing originals. One of their most know statues was of the emperor, Augustus (inserted below).
Painting and mosaics were popular type of artwork for Roman artists do create while Greek artists would paint designs more on vases and pots with watery clay to create their signature red or black figures. If they did decorate vases, Roman artists would engrave their designs that were based on naturalism. Unfortunately, a good amount of painting done by Greek artists did not survive. This is why it is hard to compare the two cultures on their styles in their paintings because we lack the evidence to do so. From the little amount of paintings preserved, it is thought that Greek artwork was centered around the ideas of harmony and simplicity compared to the extravagant style of Roman art.
Their style in architecture was mostly different due to the type of materials they used to construct their buildings. Greeks had access to marble, so majority of their buildings consist of this element. Roman architects used concrete because they were able to obtain this substance before the Greeks. They were able to create arches and vaults due to their use of concrete and bricks. Many of the famous Roman building are made out of concrete, such as the Pantheon and Colosseum. The Parthenon and Pantheon are the most famous temples in Greece and Rome. The difference between the two was that the Greek’s Parthenon was made for Athena while the Romans’ Pantheon was made for all seven of their gods.
Roman and Greek art became intertwined resulting in their style being very similar. Their art differs in some ways and shows how even when the Romans tried to fully copy Greek art, they fell short of the standard Greek artists had set. As I researched more, I realized that even though Roman artists were influenced by Greek art, they still had originality. Roman art may not be seen as great compared to art created by Greek artists, they are both exquisite and deserved an equal amount of respect. Roman art allows us to fill in the gaps missing from the many loss pieces of Greek art.
The piece of art work I decided to analyze is the Apse mosaic, “Court of Justinian”created by San Vitale in 547 A.D. It is part of a mosaic program around the alter in Ravenna, Italy. Emperor Justinian paid for these mosaics to be made. The major theme of them were to showcase the authority and power Emperor Justinian had related to the decisions for Christianity during his time as leader. In this mosaic, he is wearing a halo, crown, and a purple robe, which represent how royal and regal he was. He is accompanied by his court. Directly to his left is Archbishop Maximianus with his name above his head as well as other clergy members. Maximianus is wearing a golden cloak and has a cross with jewels in his hand possibly to represent his position in the church.
To Justinian’s right, there are court officials with their signature purple strip across their robes and soldiers. The soldiers have a shield in front of them with a symbol called the Chi-Rho used by Constantine to indicate they are the military for Christ. There are many objects in the mosaic. From Justinian’s left, there is a censer, religious text, a cross, and a bowl for the Eucharist, which is said to, “identify the mosaic as the so-called Little Entrance marking the beginning of the Byzantine liturgy of the Eucharist” (Farber, 2015). The bowl for the Eucharist is a way to signal as a tribute to the actual ruler, which is Jesus. As emperor, Justinian wanted to unify the Empire and help protect Christianity. The goal of this mosaic was to show, “Justinian as Christ’s representative on earth and to show him as worthy successor to Constantine – to express his power as head of both church and state” (Adams, 2011, p. 159). I think San Vitale achieved this idea in his mosaic.
The artist chose to use very bold and bright colors. I love the bright blue-green and red tones used through-out the border. Along with the intense color palette, the border is very detailed with light and dark shading. The mosaic is very creative and dynamic. The color choices and style of the piece represent the Hellenistic-Roman culture during this time. There is a distinct texture from the use of mosaic tiles. The gold background allows the piece to look regal and for the figures to stand out more. The facial structure and limbs of the figures are not anatomically perfect resulting in a more softer appearance to their faces and hands. There is some emotion being expressed facially, but they all appear quite solemn and/or content. This style was more about being conceptual than realistic. The artists were more focused on achieving the goal they wanted to express through their piece.
Adams, L. (2011). A history of western art. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Guisepi, R. A. (Ed.). (2018). Greek and Roman Art. Retrieved July 01, 2018, from http://history-world.org/arthist.htm
Hemingway, C. (2007, July). Retrospective Styles in Greek and Roman Sculpture. Retrieved July 1, 2018, fromhttps://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/grsc/hd_grsc.htm
Hudelson, M. (2018). Greek vs. Roman Art and Architecture (Answer Key). Retrieved July 1, 2018, from https://www2.palomar.edu/users/mhudelson/StudyGuides/GreekRoman_WA.html