Roman period

The best records of Italian art begin with the Roman period. Like the Greeks, from whom they borrowed much, the Romans incorporated art into the very architecture of their cities and towns. Monumental buildings, such as the Coloseum, were works of art in and of themselves. Smaller buildings, such as individuals’ villas, were frequently decorated with bas relief paintings, or mosaic artwork. The mosaic was a typically Roman art form, and examples can be found throughout the extent of the former Roman Empire. The artists used hundreds, sometimes thousands, of small tiles, usually less than an inch square, to form intricate designs and pictures. The tiles were made from a variety of materials, including stone and kiln-fired pottery shards, and could be painted any color of the rainbow. Mosaics have been found on both public and private buildings. For more public displays, the Romans used stone statuary. Emperors and generals were frequently memorialized as marble statues, showing them in full legionary regalia. The detail on the statues was so precise that modern scholars have been able to use them to piece together the Roman soldier’s uniform. In an interesting detail, showing the Romans’ sense of economy, many public statues were built without a head, and with a large peg-hole in the neck. When a new Emperor ascended, his head could be sculpted and the statues could be easily updated. The Romans were realists, and their artwork reflected that. People were sculpted as they truly looked, imperfections and all. From the portraits on Roman coins, or the heads on Roman statues, classical scholars of today know that Julius Caesar was balding, and Hadrian grew a beard to cover a mole.