• Category Archives Roman Art
  • Roman’s reliefs sculpture.

    R Relief



    Roman’s reliefs sculpture.


    Chronicle and narrative style tendency in Roman’s reliefs.

    Rome became the center of great empire who bind different cultures under its military power and cultural influence, so in consequence also applied the relief technique in their conquered territories in the same way that anonymous craftsmen did in Rome to decorate architectural monuments, commemorative columns and funerary pantheons walls as well as sarcophagus and the famous Arches of triumph . They are like Roman historical accounts made in stone, containing significant information on many aspects relating to the social, religious, political, military, cultural and economic life of this city and the regions they conquered.

    Can be said that “Relief Sculptures” are a creation resulted from the combination of two-dimensional pictographic arts and the three-dimensional sculptural arts. Accordingly a relief, dependent of a background surface and is extended with the combination of protuberances and deep carving in order to be visible.

    A relief also has a degree of real three-dimensionality, just like a proper sculpture. Roman artisans’ made a very good use of this technique when chronics and honoring representations were needed.


    naval batle


    Although mainly Roman’s chronic reliefs were carried out in order to decorate the walls of monuments and sarcophaguses, they meticulously captured as well important historical and commemorative dealings in Roman’s daily lives.

    Through stories narrated with vivid realism and detail, important figures of the government and their families are portrayed in scenes that are sore of visual rendering in stone or marble of them as well as other ordinary citizenso who are held at a certain moment of the action or event that was perpetuated.


    Some of the relief decoration technique advantages over the sculptures are:


    –           A relief sculpture can represent a far wider range of subjects than a statue because of its economy of resources allowing a better understanding of the messages.

    –          Because is attached to its background surface, problems of weight and physical balance are not a concern – unlike in statues and other freestanding sculptures where weight and balance can be critical.

    –          Also because reliefs are carved directly onto walls, portals, ceilings, columns, floors and other flat surfaces, they are ideally appropriate to architectural projects decorations.


    Myth of Medea


    The Roman sculpture during the first century of our era takes place away from the idealism and produced a series of important plastic works on a large scale, such as the arches of Titus and Trajan, columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius; whose relief are very well know for been true realistic masterpieces.


    Trajan column



    Key elements in the chronic relief in Roman sculpture:


    -Care in the representation of natural fall of the folds can be seen.

    -Serene expressions of faces and  attitude of the portrayed.

    -Gestures and postures strengthen communication with the viewer depending on the scene and purpose they want to achieve.

    -Legs and arms as well as the direction of the head support the representation of the dynamics of the scene for example: those who are advancing in the procession, speaking or reaching something.

    -They provide visual aspects of their clothing, rituals, social status, gods they revere, mythological heroes, musical instruments and other elements.

    -These reliefs added the didactic and narrative function to the decorative.

    – They also were made for practical use of decoration, tribute, memorial, banality or personal ambition.

    -They are anonymous, made by different sculptors of stone and marble whose craftsmanship is commissioned by the customer for what guidelines and specific requirements were followed.

    -The ductility of the stone allowed these artists to print in stone important moments in history that have been left for posterity thanks to its durability.

    -They use the perspective in reliefs with the intention of depth.


    Sidamara Sarcophagus


    The admiration of the Roman upper classes towards the Hellenistic art and the fact that many Greek sculptors were working in Rome supported the influence of the Greek plastic in the Italian Peninsula. This one was considered a model of beauty and copies of Hellenistic pieces proliferated thanks to what was possible to see the work of classical artists in Rome and be also appreciating for posterity.


    Sarcophagus scenes


    Those reliefs show interest in represent important events, heroic epics, staging with mythological figures and gods and were perfect related with the pride of the Romans as a nation, its power and the need to use any means possible to actually perform the work of propaganda that supported the actions of conquest, domination and subjugation of numerous nations and cultures.


    Antonino Pius column


    Therefore every detail of the scenes has been planned with a thorough preliminary dissertation; nothing is left to chance; resulting in a very natural and realistic work even so nothing has been improvised. Every gesture, character and size of the scene in relation to the whole responds to a carefully calculated project.

    For Roman’s, was important to represent realism in their works of art because for them the sculptor missions is not only represent beauty and pleasant features, but also represent nature and reality as good as the stone work carvings technique made it possible. Against the classical Greek abstraction preference for perfect characters, the Romans favorite to represents real-life people, portraying them with their personal characteristics, even if they were not precisely good looking.


    thematics relief



    Reliefs were done not only to communicate a message to society through an excellent propaganda, but also to honor their gods. They were as well consequently a vehicle of communication between divinities and worshipers. Have divinities made in stone ensured that those religious offerings would last eternally,  with the height quality of what in their eyes these divinities deserved. The same desire of everlasting respects and honoring to their love one applies at the sarcophagus decorations.


    Ara Pasis Augustae


    Through these “relief- chronic” in Rome they obtein the main purpose of communication, handling carefully each of the artistic elements that need to be represented, even thoug they are subordinated to the principles of the narrative in plastic media  did not failed in their task to represent the personal imprint of the nation and propagandistic purposes of the Empire as well.




  • Music of Italy in ancient times


    Instruments in ancient Italy.


    Music of Italy in ancient times.


    In Italy the music as artistic means of expression had its origins in the Greek culture. The term for referring to music derives from the Greek word “Mousike”, which means “The art of the muses”. Since early times the music of Italy was as it was made in Greece based purely on melodies also know as monophonic music; (where it is used only the melody without accompaniment of chord).


    Principal culture influence in the early days of Italy’s music.

    The Greek traditional music had great influence in the music of Rome as also did the Etruscan but in the case of the Etruscan the Roman invaders nevertheless; full of militarism and pride don’t saw the importance of preserve those people cultural heritage. The once prosper Etruscan culture was crush under the Roman’s barbarism but also forced to be assimilated, becoming victims of a senseless cultural annihilation. Along with the Etruscans documents that the Romans burned were lost important written sources which would have served the new empire in the cultural aspects; music included.


    instruments in Pompeii paints


    The Romans inherit as mentioned; remains roughly of what had been the music of the Etruscan but paid no attention to this knowledge. They appreciated that the Etruscans enlivened their festivities, in fact are named in the Greek and Roman Chronicles that Etruscan players brightened banquets and public festivities but is not spoken in them that the Romans had; in that particular period; interest in learning to play those instruments and less to manufacture them by which this knowledge was lost over time mostly.

    Is a pity that this had happened because the collection of Etruscan instruments was fairly large and they formed from a kind of symbiosis between Greek, Phoenician and Asia Minor music; from the Asians influence the Etruscans incorporate the flute and trumpet of war.


    ETRUSCAN musicians


    The Etruscan interpreters of the Auloi, who were better known by the name of “subulones”, even brightened events for a long time and had a great prestige, mostly because Roman’s do not know how to interpret those instruments. In the 4th century (BC) the Subulones still retained this reputation; even in Rome where usually the Etruscans in general or descendants of those were not precisely appreciated.

    The Etruscans elaborate and interpreted also in Italy the Salpinx or “Trumpet of war” (known as tuba) that in the version that they developed obtained great fame and was often cited by the chroniclers, even though it came from the Greek world, it is know their version with the nickname tyrsenian or Tyrrhenian and is characterized by having a powerful sound.

    During the first period of Roman rule in Italy (apart from the pastor’s flute only were interpretations in a kind of lira; and with other two instruments called trigon and lidio. Flute and cymbals that are played mainly in religious sacrifices were gradually incorporated as well.

    It is thought that the powerful influence of the woodwinds in the music in Italy comes precisely from Etruscan and Greek performers of Salpinx or tuba, the Latin term which it was later popularized. The Cornu was also developed and interpreted very well by the Etruscans and Greeks, this instrument is closely linked to those of the type that the Roman soldiers in their military campaigns would use later to execute commands such as charge and withdrawn since the powerful sound of this instrument could be heard at a great distance. The tuba was used in the army for signs.


    Ancient Greek instruments that influenced music in Italy.


    –          The epigonion: Which is similar to a modern harp or psaltery. This instrument was named after the musician who was the first person to touch the strings of the epigonion with his fingers, rather than using a plectrum. The Epigonion had around 40 strings of variable lengths.





    –          Salpinx: A straight, narrow bronze tube with a mouthpiece of bone and a bell (also constructed of bronze).

    –          The Cithara: A type of lyre played in the courts of Rome and Athens.

    –          The aulos: Modern reconstructions of the instrument indicate that the aulos was similar to a clarinet but with bass and resonant sound. Made up of two tubes of double wooden, like an oboe was played at different intervals and speeds to produce a melody.

    –          The Syrinx: Named after the nymph who was transformed into a Reed to hide from “Pan” (God of fields, forests and pastures), this were the precursors of Quenas. The musician blew by a series of wooden pipes, tied one to another at the same time, tuned by their different wavelengths, creating a soothing sound popular in recitals of poetry.

    –          The Hydraulic: One of the most complicated musical instruments at that time, the old organ was driven by a supply of water and air that when combined caused an effect within the brass tubes. A well-preserved pottery model was found at Carthage in 1885.


    –          The monochord: Consists of a single string stretched on a case with a movable bridge, this instrument was used as a scientific instrument for measuring musical intervals in the old Greece.

    –          Lyre: Instrument played with the hand (zither) has seven or more strings, each of which is tuned with a different one of the modes note. It was a popular accompaniment to singing in the ancient Greece recitals and is still used today.


    –          PHORMINX:  Probably the oldest of the cithara type instruments. It was richly decorated with gold and ivory, and accompanied the singing of the epic singers called rhapsodist.


    Music instruments Italy


    –          Barbitos or Barberton: Is an instrument of the Lyre family and resembles a Lyre, but it has longer arms and narrower sound box. Musicians are frequently depicted in vases playing the Barbitos.


    –          ASKAULES: Named by combining the two Greek words aulos and askos (a bag located under the pig arm of the musician) was what is now known as the bagpipes.


    –          Pandouris or pandorium: Also called trichord because it had three strings, is the first fretted instrument known, forerunner of the various families of lutes worldwide. A fret is a raised element on the neck of a stringed instrument.


    Instruments used in ceremonial rituals in Rome in ancient times.


    Some instruments had preference on ceremonial rituals involving musical performances to emphasize the solemnity of the rituals; the tuba was used for example in funerals, private meetings and events where the sound of this instrument provided a certain atmosphere or mood more sober and content.


    musicians in relief


    Rome also employed a wide variety of other instruments in their daily and religious lives many of which are still in use today, for example the Scabellum, which were basically clappers, rattles like the one name Sistra that was borrowed from the Egyptians and used mostly for religious purposes. Were used for those ceremonies also bells, tambourines, and a variety of drums which were played for keeping rhythm although they were utilized also for hunting purpose as well.



    –          The bucina: (possibly a trumpet or horn)

    –          The lituus: Probably an instrument in the form of (J) elongated,

    –          Tibiae: (double pipes) used at sacrifices.

    –          The Cymbals: Metal round plates made from different alloys. Ancient Greek plates have half-inch diameter more than the Roman plates and sound a fifth more deep than those.

    –          The tambourines: At orgiastic cults.

    –          The rattles: In the interpretation of anthems of various types like the Sistra; a rattle which had two strings with noise making metal attached across a “goal post” frame.

    –          Crotalos: Round small metal pieces used in the fingers.


    Latter in time and close to the Republic period the influence of Greek music is evident again in Italy. The instruments and influences of Mediterranean musical styles are manifested in the regions occupied by the Roman’s. The educated Roman’s respect and consider their Greek predecessors and so favorite their “pure” Hellenistic music forms; fairly more than the less authoritative Latin works, and so, it is the Greek music theories and thoughts that have been passed down in Italy instead of the Roman’s.


    Greek musicians in ancient times depicted in vase decorations.



    Music during Republic period in Italy


    Around the year 510 BC in Rome during the Republic were recited verses accompanied by flute with comedic tone and pantomime was strong on having musical accompaniment, others curded instruments were also Incorporate. In the year 560 BC music seemed to acquire greater appreciation by the general population and was interpreted in feasts and to the musicians was granted privileges to all them from other countries who wished to settle in Rome.

    Of course Greek musicians were widely welcomed because the variety of instruments they played as well as the quality of the parts they performed that was not comparable at all with the poor level of music of a Rome immerse in war and long journeys of conquests. Only the Roman elite could afford to hire the best musicians for their feasts, political or religious events.


    Music during the Imperial Rome


    In this period the influence of Greek music in Rome continues to be quite marked, but they already begin to interpret also parts whose style has elements of music that corresponded to peoples that Rome conquered. The fusion of all those different elements originate music parts with sounds that resonate most with a novel mode of interpretation, which would be the basis of the actual Roman music.

    –          Some Innovations to instruments of Greek origin are implemented in versions of different sizes or changes in the number of attachments, such as strings, buttons air outlet and even materials used in the manufacture of the instrument. Although those innovations made do not depart to away from the original Greeks instruments.

    –          Versions of instruments originated in the regions conquered by Rome gradually are introduced in the musical public amenities or interpretations of religious nature. With the passage of time in Italy; romantic and comedic mime performers sang and danced also with the sound of pipes, brass and percussion. These regions that influenced the music of Italy the most in this period of the Roman Empire include the Iberian Peninsula and the eastern regions.

    –          Despite music been slightly condemned Children were taught it and women were expected to be capable musicians usually on some type of instruments like the lyre and/or pipes.

    –          There is evidence showing that from the century (v B.C.) the melodic lines are now accompanied in the fourth and the fifth interval. Specific melodies were used in this period only for certain occasions. “The new applications of these melodies were known by the term “nomoi”, or also known as “laws”. The “nomoi” are what is now equated with the concept of “modes”.


    kitara and aulo


    Romans borrowed their musical theory and instruments from the cultures around them and adapted them to their needs for example the Barbitos the bass of the lyre family with its long strings and was thought to have originated on Lesbos. Was considered an instrument of pleasure at parties and festive gatherings for Roman because of the excitation it sound produce.

    The music in this period is subject to the vagaries, likes, dislikes and follies of the successive emperors. Since Cesar, who liked music and organized shows with many musicians, passing by Augustus who considered that music at the shows were a medium that helped distract the masses, containing them and diverting their attention from economic and political crucial problems. Emperor Tiberius that banished all the musicians for a murder committed in a theatre, as well as others who liked the music as Caligula, Claudius and Nero this last one was so obsessed with music that went as far as proclaim it as the main element of happiness of the Empire, causing his compulsive madness to do that the Romans not appreciate music in the future even after the fall of the Roman Empire.

    During the Roman Imperial period they took their music to the provinces under their power.Roman-style instruments are found in parts of the Empire where they did not originate initially. This is a fact indicative of music been among the different thing that Roman culture spread by the provinces.A strong influence between cultures occurs in this period when the traditions of Asia Minor, North Africa and Gaul influenced Roman as well. In the last period of the Roman Empire the influence from the oriental region is significant and that is show in the instruments and interpretation of the songs.

    The music accompanied the shows and events in the arena and was part of the performing arts form called pantomimes, an early form of the story of the ballet that combines expressive dance, instrumental music and libretto Sung. Music was also accompanying theatrical performances and recitals of poets. In Verdiales in the ruins of Pompeii had been found mosaics depicting musicians with their instruments performing in the streets and that is an indication that the roman’s like music as well outside the theaters, coliseums or ritual celebrations. 


    Roman's Musicians interpreting their instruments in the streets.


    Musical notations did not appear in Rome until the 9th century when was used by the clergy to standardize the hymns accompanying officiate rituals Have not been found evidence that there was a standardized form to interpret the music still in that period, rather it was the simple implementation of the so-called “neumes” because they determined when the intensity of the music should raise or when should lower.


    Actus: High intensity.

    Gravus: Low intensity.

    No chronicles or bibliography had been found that provided so far a significant or unique contribution in theory or practice of music for a long period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the strengthening of the Christianization in the Italian peninsula.




    -Jacques HEURGON: the daily life of the Etruscans. Madrid: Temas de today, 1991.

    -Santiago MONTERO: “Etruscan music”. Journal of archaeology, no. 12 (1980), pp. 18-25.

    -Massimo PALLOTINO: Etruscology. Buenos Aires: Eudeba, 1965.

    Angel Roman Ramirez: Music in Tartessos and the pre-Roman Iberia. Raleigh (N.C.): Lulu Enterprise, 2009.

    -Boethius, Anicius Manlius Severinus. De institutione music. (English edition as Fundamentals of Music, translated, with introduction and notes by Calvin M. Bower; edited by Claude V. Palisca.) New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.)

    -Marcuse, Sibyl. 1975 musical Instruments: A Comprehensive Dictionary, corrected edition. Norton Library. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. ISBN 0-393-00758-8.

    -Scott, j. e. 1957. ‘Roman Music’ in The New Oxford History of Music, vol.1: ‘Ancient and Oriental Music,’ Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    -Ulrich, Homer, and Paul Pisk. 1963. A History of Music and Musical Style. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanoich.

    -West, Martin Litchfield. 1992. Ancient Greek Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-814897-6 (cloth) ISBN 0-19-814975-1 (pbk).


  • Roman Art. Painting

    Paint in Ancient Rome.

    Rome in ancient times.

    The Romans entered the Iberian Peninsula in 218 B.C. they started to create stable settlements from the middle of the 2nd century B.C  The Romanization of numerous villages; either by wars or socio-cultural influence is propagated intensely and lasted more than five centuries. The Romans have left on its soil archaeological remains that have enabled study this interesting and rampant culture that had so much influence over the course of the history of mankind, laying the foundations of moral codes, justice, politics, religion, urbanization, and military strategy.

     Rome was a people of farmers, merchants, warriors. The Romans showed greater interest in the practical things and their artistic works had always a utilitarian stamp. Dominated people, founders of a vast Empire, the Roman fundamental concern was  to maintain dominance over the colonized territories, for which they mobilized powerful armies. The Roman empire gave life to a dense body of laws that tightened the relations between the metropolis and the provinces, and developed a gigantic constructive work with a varied repertoire of architectural forms perfectly adapted to its purpose of propaganda and funcionality.  Their main merit is to have extended the Greco-Roman civilization for a vast part of the known world.

    The Roman art develops from the Greek and Etruscan influences, reached its peak in the era of the Empire. Was held in Italy from the year 200 before C. until the 4th century after C. Some people had the opinion that Roman Art is inferior to the Greek art, but it was actually more varied, more flexible and in some aspects is closer to the modern art ; its influence in the art of the middle ages and the Renaissance was notable.

    Romans painting

    The roman’s paintings used new colors that were obtained from the combination of different substances as a base material, so the range is broader than the one used previously by the Greeks or even the Egyptians. Their painting show figurative features and innovative resources to develop them as faithful as possible to the reality, using elements such as mainstreaming, symmetry, the use of shadows to highlight the figures from the background and others with exquisite taste and mastery.

    They used the technique of tempera color stains, applied with brushstrokes loose, without detail, as did centuries later the Impressionists with pretentious touches of shadow and light. Also in the painting is palpable a trend towards realism with some topics preferred such as the portrait, caricature and landscape.

    Their works have a practical character used to decorate, but also had a strong propaganda elements to serve as support of the spreading of philosophy and Roman politics to the peoples with whom they had contact. In Roman Mural painting  the fresco was the preferred method; although it has been pointed out that they must have used other techniques and even combine them.

    Roman painting

    From the 1st century, there are two pictorial trends or styles:


    –       The Neo attic style: they cares for the human form, highlighting issues of mythology and the  epic.


    –       The Hellenistic style – Alexandrian: which shows concern for painting rural farming landscape and the sea.



    In Roman painting there are four styles observed:


    1.     Inlay. (Imitates the decoration of marbles)


    2.     Architectural. (Imitates the lining and architecture)


    3.     Mixed or ornamental. (It is a mixture of the previous two)


    4.     Illusionist or staged. (Reloaded a mix of the second with the third style)


    The erotic Roma’n painting with explicit  sexual themes.

    The philosophy of liberality allowed that the theme of the nude in both sexes could be expressed even with scenes quite explicit and daring where the figures appear occasionally in acts of sexual content, which can even today blush some. Paints with sexual content have been found more often in the walls of houses were sexual activities were perform as meaning of sexual services and also in the walls of the changing rooms at the public baths.


    Roman Mosaic

    Romans first start using the mosaic technique of decoration in walls and ceilings but later this complex technique was rather used more in the pavements. Magnificent paints decorations made from tesserae of marble, (an individual little tile, usually formed in the shape of a cube) depict a variety of themes using sometimes only two colors or in the case of the more complex one a rich polychrome.

    Mosaic had wide representation in the palaces; they represent the same characteristics of the rest of Roman’s paint made in fresco or on other elements. Coming from Greek influences develop a more roman style were architectonic designs, geometrics or nature scenic decorations are elaborated resulting in works of expressive beauty were even precious metallic components like for example gold contribute to their splendor.

    The Mosaic artist were very well recognized and well paid and the trade secrets of elaborations were mostly passing from families’ roots generation after generation. The flours in private villages, public buildings, the thermals rooms in public baths and the aristocratic palaces were all highly enriched with the mosaic decorations.


    Themes more frecuently used in mosaic technique in Roma:

    • Marine
    • Death nature.
    • Heroic legends
    • Erotic themes                                                      
    • Military Affairs
    • The portrait
    • Hunting topics 
    • Mythology
    • Geometric


    Roman Mosaic from the Old cathedral of Cartagena

    Mosaic roman from the cathedral of Chartagen


    Other roman painting techniques

    Along with those other pictorial techniques used are the trestle; that were very popular among the upper classes of the Roman Empire and the small fresco painting. There was another technique well known as Encaustic made in fabric or wood. Many details of the Roman painting are Know through the frescoes found in the city of Pompeii, they are seen as is they are copies of Greek paintings; based on the themes they are showing and the techniques used.

    The poverty of the architectural materials used in Roman buildings enabling a development of mural painting. The use of materials such as concrete, brick or masonry, were forced to put a coating on them. So walls were treated with a layer of white and fine stucco which later were polish. The stucco was marble reduced to powder mixed with lime or cola to apply them to the wall.


    Two names stand out as precursors artist of Roman history painting:


    –       Fabius: Painter hardly known, lived around 300 BC.


    –       Painter Pacuvius of which we know nothing of his artistic production although we imagine that his tendency towards the Greek would be decisive.


    These two painters tend to represent a kind of historical paintings in which depictions of battles and the commemorations of WINS would be the most frequent topics. These military scenes were conceived as propaganda posters that exhibited the winners Generals in their triumphal walks to return home.


    The Roman technique of produce murals inside the houses was inspired by the Greek, with if refers as the wall dividing into three parts:


    –       The base foundation.


    –       Superstructure


    –       Intermediate zone.


    Another innovation of Roman painting is the opening of the wall through a painted perspective in the form of open window in which introduced the characters in two ways:


    –       Through small figurative paintings


    –       By placing the characters in the baseboards as a theatrical space.


    The absence of furniture and large patios and room’s made necessary those coatings. The painting that has come down to us is not representative of the Roman era; the painters in this era were craftsmen with rather special abilities and knowledge about techniques and Greek themes.

    The colors were applied to the wall newly plastered and wet, with this made that these colored inks penetrated, creating a thick layer. Sometimes they painted directly if the plaster had dried. This painting is immediately recognized because of it little adhesion of the color who produced then to crack more easily.

    third Pompeii style.


    The Stylistic and chronological division of Roman painting in Pompeii. 


    • Early Pompeian style


    • Second Pompeian style


    • Third Pompeian style


    • Fourth Pompeian style.


    Fourth POmpeii style frescos.

    The earthquake and Volcanic eruption happened in the city of Pompeii in year 63 caused such damage that most of the city had to be rebuild. Therefore all coatings were made again, despite the fact that some years later they were damaged in the eruption of Vesuvius. The technique used in these new paintings sought the unreal effects leaving aside the expertise and previous amazing refinement. Architectural simulations are replaced with fantastic painted compositions; they are not referred to an objective reality.

    Dionysian initiation frescos from the Villa of Mysteries in Pompeii.

     The examples that have reached us, both Rome and Pompeii, make that we can differentiate between the two geographical areas.


    –       In Pompeii there is a predilection for bright purple, red cinnabar, the deep blue colors, or the golden yellow for the columns.


    –       However in Rome, the intonations are clear on totally white backgrounds.

    Roman woman portrait.