Roman Painting

Roman Painting
Comparative Civilizations 12
K.J. Benoy
Roman Painting – Relationship to
 Similar
marked mosaic
work and painting
in the Roman
Roman Painting – Relationship to
 Though the Romans
did not develop the
ability to display three
dimensions on two
dimensional surfaces
to the same level of
competence as
Renaissance artists,
they came close.
 Only the mathematical
precision was lacking.
Roman Painting – Fresco Technique
 Much Roman painting decorated walls.
 The technique used was true Fresco.
– This involved applying lime over a layer of plaster,
mixed with sand over an upper layer of mixed marble
and alabaster dust.
 True fresco involves applying paint to wet plaster.
 The painter must estimate the amount of plaster to
be applied in a day.
 Unpainted plaster must be chipped away as it is of
no use.
Roman Painting – Paint.
 The most frequently
employed pigments
were earth tones.
 Less commonly used
was cinnabar, which is
the brilliant red found
at the Villa of the
Mysteries at Pompeii.
Roman Painting – Fresco Techniques
 The problem for the painter is that the
colour applied may not be the colour that
 Cinnabar occasionally turned black with
time. It is also a very expensive paint.
 Applied white always turned black.
 Gold leaf is occasionally used.
Roman Painting - Pompeii
 Much of our knowledge of Roman domestic painting
comes from the bad luck of Romans in the area of Mt.
 Volcanic ash covered many Roman villas at Pompeii,
Herculaneum and Boscorealle.
 Much of our knowledge comes from excavations of
these sites.
Roman Villas – Painted Decoration
Artist’s reconstruction of a villa’s painted decoration
by art historian Bettina Bergmann.
Roman Painting – Four Styles
The First Style
 The First Style:
– This sometimes is
referred to as the
“masonry style.”
– This involved
geometrical patterns,
especially blockwork.
– Walls are often painted
to imitate marble.
Roman Painting – Four Styles
The Second Style
 The Second Style
– Theatrical settings, like
painted cityscapes.
– The illusion of space is
Roman Painting – Four Styles
The Second Style
 The Second Style
– This often involved
inter-connected scenes
that show a story –
such as that of the
walls in Pompeii’s
Villa of the Mysteries.
Roman Painting – Four Styles
The Second Style
Wall from Pompeii’s Villa of the Mysteries
Roman Painting – Four Styles
The Second Style
Pompeii’s Villa of the Mysteries
Roman Painting – Four Styles
The Third Style
 The Third Style
– Movement away from
architectural illusion
and a turning to surface
– Pretty natural settings
were often favoured.
Roman Painting – Four Styles
The Third Style
 The third style is often
highly ornate.
 The decoration serves
to frame smaller
individual works of
Roman Painting – Four Styles
The Fourth Style
 The fourth style
– Ecclectic designs
including a revival of
the second style.
– Painted narrative
Roman Painting – Four Styles
The Fourth Style
 This style is often
marked by highly
ornate images that
reveal the artist’s close
observation of how
light plays on objects
Roman Painting
 The naturalism and
realism of Roman
painting of the
Republic and Imperial
periods was quite
remarkable and
unsurpassed for over a
thousand years, until
the Renaissance.
Roman Painting – Portraiture
 Unlike the Greeks, the
Romans were keen to
preserve accurate images
of the dead.
– This probably originated
in the Roman veneration
of ancestors.
– Accurate images were
made in death masks,
busts and paintings.
– Romans had no desire to
annoy the dead.
Roman Painting - Portraiture
 One of the richest
sources of Roman
portraiture is Fayum,
in Egypt.
 Images of the dead lay
in sarcophaguses
during the Roman
period, as before.
What is new is the
amazing realism of the
encaustic painted
images that have been
recovered here.
Roman Painting – Portraiture
The Fayum Mummy Images
Roman Painting – Christian Influence
 As in sculpture,
Roman mosaics and
paintings turned
increasingly away
from realism and
toward symbolism.
 Figures are made
more “spiritual” by
separating them from
a realistic
background. They
seem to float in space
Roman Painting – Christian Influence
 This symbolic style,
which began to be
used in the catacombs
of Rome and other
Christian centers
became the dominant
art form of both the
Byzantine Empire and
the Germanic
Christian West.

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