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Portrait Sculpture in Roman Emire and Roman Republic

By zainabzubairi May 14, 2012 904 Words
The Roman Republic (500BC to 100BC) was a balanced form of government, based on the rule of law and allowing each citizen to vote. Nobody was above the law. The power was not wholly given to any one person, but was divided, so that no one had absolute power. There were factors of democracy, monarchy and oliography. These three elements were well balanced; preventing tyranny, dictatorship and abuse of power and this is what helped Rome achieve great heights. The republican period began with the overthrow of the Monarchy in 509 BC and lasted until its subversion, through a series of civil wars, into the Roman Empire. In contrast to the Republic, the Empire was a system in which one man i.e. the emperor, had absolute power. Corruption and Tyranny became common and emperors ruled with cruelty and incompetency. Under the Empire, the power of Rome began to decline and slowly came to the point of collapse. The fact that the Empire held together for another hundred and fifty years was largely due to a series of strong soldier-emperors such as Marcus Aurelius. But they were still not able to take Rome back to what it once was and as soon as weak emperors such as Commodius took power, Rome entered its final decline and loss of glory. The empire was brought about largely by Julius Caesar.

The arts were an important part of the ancient Roman Civilization. A lot of Roman Art was highly influenced from Greek Art, yet the Romans had a distinctive style and developed important new techniques in the areas of theater, sculpture, poetry, painting and architecture, among others. ROMAN PORTRAIT SCULPTURE

Roman Sculpture mainly includes portraiture, historical relief, funerary reliefs, sarcophagi, and copies of ancient Greek works. The Romans gave a lot of importance and value to the family lineage and ancestry and therefore, made portrait sculptures for their ancestors to keep their lineage alive and to show case it. Another significance of the Roman portrait Sculptures is that in comparison to others, theirs are the best preserved in both quality and quantity and have not been destroyed over the ages. In fact, a lot of information about the Greek sculptures has been gained from the Roman copies of Greek sculptures as the originals have been lost or damaged over time. Les dieux eux-mêmes meurent.

Mais les vers souverains
Plus forts que les airains.

Sculpte, lime, cisèle ;
Que ton rêve flottant
Se scelle
Dans le bloc résistant !

The gods themselves die.
But the sovereign to
Stronger than brass.

Sculpt, file, chisel;
Whether your dream floating
is sealed
In block-resistant!

Théophile Gautier — Émaux et Camées

The portrait sculpture in the time of the Roman Republic drew heavy influences from the Greek and Etruscan periods. However, the Romans introduced much more realistic sculptures, and did not try to hide any flaws of the subject’s face or to make the subject more beautiful or perfect in any sense. They made Veristic sculptures and gave importance to showing true likenesses in portrait sculptures instead of idealizing them. During the Republic, Roman sculpture included statues of officials, senators and military commanders as a way to celebrate a military or political achievement. These public portraits were full body or bust representations and always carried a detailed inscription about the subject's achievements. Portrait bust of a man, 1st century b.c.; Republican Roman

During the Roman Empire, as democracy was replaced by dictatorship, the emperors made use of the arts as a form of self-promotion and propaganda and to promote the themes of the administration, such as peace, loyalty to Rome, and respect for tradition. Art was turned into materialization of the Roman government. This use of art forms was of course applied to sculptures also and was carried on by emperors and their descendants to project only the image of themselves that they wanted to show to the people and not what they actually looked like. Hence, the sculptures were idealized and glossed over, not showing true likeness to reality. Emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, known as Caligula 37–41; Julio-Claudian Roman Empire EXAMPLES

The first sketch shows a portrait sculpture from the Roman Republic. It is a veristic sculpture. Verism is a form of art that shows the imperfections of the subject in full detail, including warts, wrinkles and furrows etc. and captures all the minuscule details of the face. The sculpture shows the realistic approach of portrait sculptures during the Roman Republic.

The second sketch shows a sculpture from the Roman Empire. It is the portrait head of Emperor Augustus. This kind of imperial image shows the introduction of self-promotion and propaganda in —certain features are somewhat individualized, such as the broad forehead with a distinctive arrangement of locks and prominent ears, but the overall effect is one of elevated dignity that recalls Greek Classical statues of the fifth century B.C.


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