What Are the Characteristics of Roman Art?

Roman art is an extremely broad category, encompassing 1000 years of history, various religions and political systems, many artistic mediums, and widely separated physical locations. In general, however, Roman art is based heavily on Greek models. It uses idealized forms and very often depicts mythological narrative.

Roman architecture is often included under the category of art. Romans were the first to widely use the arch in their architecture, allowing them to construct much larger and more stable stone buildings.

Roman sculpture is mostly based on Greek terracotta originals that, because of their material, do not survive today. These are almost exclusively mythological figures. Original Roman statues usually depict senators or emperors. Sculpture was either carved from marble or cast in bronze.

Wall painting is a highly studied form of Roman art, unique in ancient archaeology because it survives. Roman wall painting would be mostly lost to us today if Vesuvius had not erupted and buried Pompeii and Herculaneum, preserving the walls in situ. Romans often painted landscape scenes, a type of art either not created or not preferred in Greece. It was therefore a uniquely Roman invention, which is rare in Roman art.

Reliefs were a major art form for Romans. These were scenes carved into a piece of stone. The most famous example is from the Ara Pacis, a building with reliefs on all sides of its interior and exterior walls.