„Theseus the Liberator. Ancient Roman fresco from Herculaneum Basilica.“

3rd century BC – 4th century BC

Roman Art – Heroes from Another World

In the centuries before Christ, the Romans overtook the Etruscan civilization and collected their Hellenistic-influenced culture in order to reinvent themselves. The arts continued to flourish, and so did visual art with them. To this day, Pompeii and Herculaneum are proof of the growing empire’s cultural prosperity with their powerful columns and statues, and their magnificent mosaics and frescoes. The cultural influences from their oriental neighbors, and especially from the Greeks, can clearly be seen in Roman architecture and paintings. The Romans not only copied techniques, but also some of the content: Achilles, Dionysus, Amor – to name just a few of the gods and heroes who can be traced back to Greek mythology.

Wolfgang Beltracchi paints the face of the centaur Chiron in wet plaster. A fresco is created in the style of the 2nd century AD.

Roman Art

In ancient Rome, mural painting was in its heyday and the occupation “artist” was appropriately prestigious. But the names of the ancient Roman painters are hardly known today as they did not sign their works.

1. From Art to Advertising
In ancient Rome, paintings were both sacred and secular and were popularly used for decoration. While the depictions of mythological scenes found in the homes of this financially strong society exhibit the sophisticated techniques that were used, the drawings used for advertising purposes are quite simple. Brothel scenes or a fish in the cookshop – the main thing is that the message is clear.

2. In Good Old Tradition
The artistic motifs are often devoted to the gods and heroes from Greek mythology, something which shaped the education of the upper Roman classes.

3. What Isn’t Real Is Painted
Columns, doors, marble slabs, or the imaginary view over the countryside and temples – the painters masterfully bring mock architecture to the walls and use every square centimeter to do so. Homes are thereby upgraded and underline the social status of their owners.

4. Image Composition According to the Book
As a stylistic element, the architectural imitations are quite different when looked at in detail. However, the defining elements are always constructed according to the same pattern: a simply designed base, an elaborate middle section usually covered with paintings or ornamental panels, and an upper section with architectural elements.

5. Wall Paintings Become the Trend
As the scholar Gaius Plinius Secundus noted in “Naturalis Historia” in 77 AD, the trend in ancient Rome changed from panel paintings to wall paintings (frescoes). A mixture of wax and color pigments (encaustic painting) or tempera on wood was mostly used in panel paintings. For the increasingly popular frescoes, the artists painted on fresh plaster with pigments ground in travertine water.

Rome Italy Europe ancient Rome fresco painting paint plaster style craftsmanship painter art artist illusion wall home dom



Roman Wall Painting. Cubiculum Nocturnum. Late Republican, 50-40 BC. 2nd style. Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreal, Italy