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CHAPTER 24. Art and Architecture in the Roman Republic

Katherine E.Welch

Subject Classics » Classical Art and Archaeology
Roman History » Roman Republic
History » Cultural History

Key-Topics arts and architecture, republic(s)

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405102179.2006.00027.x


Art historians have long searched for what might have been distinctive, or “essential” about Roman art, in contrast to art of the Greeks and other peoples of the ancient Mediterranean. This search was initiated by those who came of age in Europe in the mid-later nineteenth century, when concepts of “national identity” were of paramount concern. The “Romanness” of Roman art proved, however, to be elusive. Certain features, such as realism in portraiture or spatial illusionism, continuous narrative and historicity in relief, were seized upon as distinctive. But it became apparent that all these aspects were present in some form in earlier Greek art. Eventually art historians began moving away from the search for what was specifically Roman, emphasizing instead qualities such as eclecticism, diversity, and flexibility of artistic motifs and styles as the hallmarks of Roman art. The recent trend has been to analyze Roman art in relation to the authoritative Greek prototypes that it drew upon, which were creatively remodeled for purposes of new visual expression. I would suggest that art historians have perhaps given up too soon in the search for what, in an overarching sense, is “Roman” in Roman art. If it is to be found, however, the search must be carried out in a difficult, sometimes sparsely documented period of Rome's history, namely the Republic, particularly the third to second ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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