Roman sculpture
The study of ancient Roman sculpture is complicated by its relation to Greek sculpture. Many examples of even the most famous Greek sculptures, such as the Apollo Belvedere
Apollo Belvedere
The Apollo Belvedere or Apollo of the Belvedere—also called the Pythian Apollo— is a celebrated marble sculpture from Classical Antiquity. It was rediscovered in central Italy in the late 15th century, during the Renaissance...

 and Barberini Faun
Barberini Faun
The life-size marble statue known as the Barberini Faun or Drunken Satyr is located in the Glyptothek in Munich, Germany. A Faun is the Roman equivalent of a Greek Satyr. In Greek mythology, satyrs were human-like male woodland spirits with several animal features, often a goat-like tail, hooves,...

, are known only from Roman Imperial
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 or Hellenistic "copies." At one time, this imitation was taken by art historians as indicating a narrowness of the Roman artistic imagination, but in the late 20th-century, Roman art began to be reevaluated on its own terms: some impressions of the nature of Greek sculpture may in fact be based on Roman artistry.

Examples of Roman sculpture are abundantly preserved. Latin
Latin literature
Latin literature includes the essays, histories, poems, plays, and other writings of the ancient Romans. In many ways, it seems to be a continuation of Greek literature, using many of the same forms...

 and some Greek authors
Ancient Greek literature
Ancient Greek literature refers to literature written in the Ancient Greek language until the 4th century.- Classical and Pre-Classical Antiquity :...

, particularly Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder
Gaius Plinius Secundus , better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian...

 in Book 34 of his Natural History
Naturalis Historia
The Natural History is an encyclopedia published circa AD 77–79 by Pliny the Elder. It is one of the largest single works to have survived from the Roman Empire to the modern day and purports to cover the entire field of ancient knowledge, based on the best authorities available to Pliny...

, describe statues, and a few of these descriptions match extant works. While a great deal of Roman sculpture survives more or less intact, it is often damaged or fragmentary.


thumb|250px|right|Portrait of [[Thomas Jefferson]] by [[Rembrandt Peale]], 1805. [[New-York Historical Society]].A portrait is a painting, photograph, sculpture, or other artistic representation of a person, in which the face and its expression is predominant. The intent is to display the likeness,...

ure is a dominant genre of Roman sculpture, growing perhaps from the traditional Roman emphasis
Mos maiorum
The mos maiorum is the unwritten code from which the ancient Romans derived their social norms. It is the core concept of Roman traditionalism, distinguished from but in dynamic complement to written law. The mos maiorum The mos maiorum ("ancestral custom") is the unwritten code from which the...

 on family and ancestors; the entrance hall (atrium
Atrium (architecture)
In modern architecture, an atrium is a large open space, often several stories high and having a glazed roof and/or large windows, often situated within a larger multistory building and often located immediately beyond the main entrance doors...

of a Roman elite house
In ancient Rome, the domus was the type of house occupied by the upper classes and some wealthy freedmen during the Republican and Imperial eras. They could be found in almost all the major cities throughout the Roman territories...

 displayed ancestral portrait busts. During the Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

, it was considered a sign of character not to gloss over physical imperfections, and to depict men in particular as rugged and unconcerned with vanity: the portrait was a map of experience. During the Imperial era, more idealized statues of Roman emperor
Roman Emperor
The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman State during the imperial period . The Romans had no single term for the office although at any given time, a given title was associated with the emperor...

s became ubiquitous, particularly in connection with the state religion of Rome
Imperial cult (ancient Rome)
The Imperial cult of ancient Rome identified emperors and some members of their families with the divinely sanctioned authority of the Roman State...

. Tombstones of even the modestly rich middle class sometimes exhibit portraits of the otherwise unknown deceased carved in relief
Relief is a sculptural technique. The term relief is from the Latin verb levo, to raise. To create a sculpture in relief is thus to give the impression that the sculpted material has been raised above the background plane...


Among the many museums with examples of Roman portrait sculpture, the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a renowned art museum in New York City. Its permanent collection contains more than two million works, divided into nineteen curatorial departments. The main building, located on the eastern edge of Central Park along Manhattan's Museum Mile, is one of the...

 in New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 and the British Museum
British Museum
The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...

 in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 are especially noteworthy.

Religious and funerary art

Religious art was also a major form of Roman sculpture. A central feature of a Roman temple
Religion in ancient Rome
Religion in ancient Rome encompassed the religious beliefs and cult practices regarded by the Romans as indigenous and central to their identity as a people, as well as the various and many cults imported from other peoples brought under Roman rule. Romans thus offered cult to innumerable deities...

 was the cult statue of the deity, who was regarded as "housed" there (see aedes). Although images of deities were also displayed in private gardens and parks, the most magnificent of the surviving statues appear to have been cult images. Roman altars were usually rather modest and plain, but some Imperial examples are modeled after Greek practice with elaborate reliefs, most famously the Ara Pacis
Ara Pacis
The Ara Pacis Augustae is an altar to Peace, envisioned as a Roman goddess...

, which has been called "the most representative work of Augustan
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...

 art." Small statuettes, executed with varying degrees of artistic competence, are plentiful in the archaeological record, particularly in the provinces
Roman province
In Ancient Rome, a province was the basic, and, until the Tetrarchy , largest territorial and administrative unit of the empire's territorial possessions outside of Italy...

, and indicate that these art objects were a continual presence in the lives of Romans, whether for dedicating at a temple or for private devotional display at home or in neighborhood shrines.

Roman sarcophagi, mainly dating from the 1st to the 4th centuries CE, offer examples of intricate reliefs that depict scenes often based on Greek
Greek mythology
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

 and Roman mythology
Roman mythology
Roman mythology is the body of traditional stories pertaining to ancient Rome's legendary origins and religious system, as represented in the literature and visual arts of the Romans...

 or mystery religions that offered personal salvation, and allegorical
Allegory is a demonstrative form of representation explaining meaning other than the words that are spoken. Allegory communicates its message by means of symbolic figures, actions or symbolic representation...

 representations. Roman funerary art
Funerary art
Funerary art is any work of art forming, or placed in, a repository for the remains of the dead. Tomb is a general term for the repository, while grave goods are objects—other than the primary human remains—which have been placed inside...

 also offers a variety of scenes from everyday life, such as game-playing, hunting, and military endeavors.

Scenes from Roman sarcophagi


Scenes shown on reliefs such as that of Trajan's column
Trajan's Column
Trajan's Column is a Roman triumphal column in Rome, Italy, which commemorates Roman emperor Trajan's victory in the Dacian Wars. It was probably constructed under the supervision of the architect Apollodorus of Damascus at the order of the Roman Senate. It is located in Trajan's Forum, built near...

 and those shown on sarcophogi reveal images of Roman technology now long lost, such as ballistae and the use of waterwheel-driven saws for cutting stone. The latter was only recently discovered at Hieropolis and commemorates the miller who used the machine. Other reliefs show harvesting machines, much as they were described by Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder
Gaius Plinius Secundus , better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian...

 in his Naturalis Historia
Naturalis Historia
The Natural History is an encyclopedia published circa AD 77–79 by Pliny the Elder. It is one of the largest single works to have survived from the Roman Empire to the modern day and purports to cover the entire field of ancient knowledge, based on the best authorities available to Pliny...

The architectural writer Vitruvius
Marcus Vitruvius Pollio was a Roman writer, architect and engineer, active in the 1st century BC. He is best known as the author of the multi-volume work De Architectura ....

 is oddly reticent on the architectural use of sculpture, mentioning only a few examples, though he says that an architect should be able to explain the meaning of architectural ornament and gives as an example the use of caryatid
A caryatid is a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting an entablature on her head. The Greek term karyatides literally means "maidens of Karyai", an ancient town of Peloponnese...


See also

  • Roman art
    Roman art
    Roman art has the visual arts made in Ancient Rome, and in the territories of the Roman Empire. Major forms of Roman art are architecture, painting, sculpture and mosaic work...

  • Roman engineering
    Roman engineering
    Romans are famous for their advanced engineering accomplishments, although some of their own inventions were improvements on older ideas, concepts and inventions. Technology for bringing running water into cities was developed in the east, but transformed by the Romans into a technology...

  • Roman technology
    Roman technology
    Roman technology is the engineering practice which supported Roman civilization and made the expansion of Roman commerce and Roman military possible over nearly a thousand years....

  • Classical sculpture
    Classical sculpture
    Classical sculpture refers to the forms of sculpture from Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, as well as the Hellenized and Romanized civilizations under their rule or influence from about 500 BC to fall of Rome in AD 476. It also refers stylistically to modern sculptures done in a classical style....

  • History of sculpture
    History of sculpture
    The history of sculpture spans pre-historic and ancient civilizations to the contemporary, from the utilitarian and religious to Modernist abstraction, and conceptual manifestations of both form and content....

  • Ancient Roman pottery
    Ancient Roman pottery
    Pottery was produced in enormous quantities in ancient Rome, mostly for utilitarian purposes. It is found all over the former Roman Empire and beyond...

  • Gallo-Roman art

Further reading

  • Conlin, Diana Attnally, The Artists of the Ara Pacis, University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
  • Hallett, Christopher H., The Roman Nude: Heroic Portrait Statuary 200 BC - AD 300, Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Kleiner, Diana E.E., Roman Sculpture, Yale University Press, 1992.
  • Gerhard Koeppel
    Gerhard Koeppel
    Gerhard Koeppel is a German-born historian of Roman art and a specialist in the study of Roman historical relief sculpture. Koeppel studied at the University of Cologne and studied under the ancient art historian Heinz Kähler...

    , "Official State Reliefs of the City of Rome in the Imperial Age: A Bibliography." ANRW II.12.1, 477-506.
  • Koortbojian, Michael, Myth, Meaning, and Memory on Roman Sarcophagi, University of California Press, 1995.
  • Mattusch, Carol A., The Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum: Life and Afterlife of a Sculptural Collection, J. Paul Getty Museum, 2005.
  • Ryberg, Inez Scott, Rites of the State Religion in Roman Art, American Academy in Rome, 1955.
  • Varner, Eric R., Mutilation and Transformation: Damnatio Memoriae and Roman Imperial Portraiture, Brill, 2004.

External links

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