From the Marble Statue of Eirene to Apollo Belvedere, the Romans are widely known for their unique sculptures, and were given credit for turning Hellenic statues into a widespread art form across the Mediterranean seas. However, before we can understand the influence that Roman statues have in modern day art, we must first look at the main source of their influence, which began in Ancient Greece.
In the late fourth century B.C., the Romans had expanded to the Mediterranean, and were so taken by the exotic culture and beauty of the Greek cities that they returned to Rome with many lavish works of art. Once the wealthier, materialistic classes had witnessed these forms of public display, the demand for Greek art increased. This resulted in Roman artists creating bronze and marble replicas by taking molds of the original Greek statues and
shipping them to the Roman Empire. Furthermore, techniques such as bronze casting, mosaic, and free-standing sculpture were all developed or refined by Ancient Greek artists. You can find an in-depth guide to bronze casting in our recent blog.
For many years, the most popular view was that Roman art varied between either entirely original concepts, or exact copies of Greek statues. However, recent analysis shows that not only did the Romans use their creative flair to create ‘pastiches’ of Greek art, but their work also encompassed Etruscan, native Italic, and Egyptian visual culture. Moreover, it is theorised that the Roman Empire’s earliest exposure to Greek art did not occur during the Roman conquest of the Greek city-states, but was in fact transmitted to Rome via Etruria centuries prior.
The Etruscians deeply admired the styles, and subject material (their work had deeply religious connotations) of Greek art and became best known for their bronze sculptures that were exported in vast quantities. This amalgam of European influences saw the transmutation of religious expression turn to a focus on the ideology of man. Where Greek sculptures were devoutly religious in their idealism, Roman sculpture took a more secular approach; one that is used in modern art to this day.
Today, much of the influence we see from the Roman era resides in our architecture (like the waiting area in New York’s Pennsylvania Station, which was modelled on the Baths of Caracalla in Rome), and our use of the theme of idealism when creating sculptures and statues. In fact, there are significantly fewer instances of religious influence being referenced within art of the 21st Century.
To get even more insight into how Roman art has influenced modernist sculpture, we look to our own resident artists at Collier Dobson. Philip Jackson expressed his source of inspiration stems from "Venice and figurative tradition", which can be seen in sculptures like Altar Ego - Maquette and In Vogue in Venice. The sculptures are cast using bronze, staying true to methods dating back to Ancient Greece.
Michael James Talbot uses the same technique, and is inspired by "the human form and it's dramatic poetry". This certainly rings true for his sculpture Corsair, which takes the Roman approach to the idealism and self-aggrandisation of the human form.
- Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Roman Copies of Greek Statues.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/rogr/hd_rogr.htm (October 2002)
- Tuck, Steven L., A History of Roman Art, Wiley Blackwell, 2015.
- Stack, Leandra,Roman Art and Architecture, [online] World Technologies, 2014.