Lecture: Roman Sculpture (Listen and Read)

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Lecture: Roman Sculpture
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Last week we looked at the art, particularly the sculpture, of Ancient Greece,
and this week, we'll be moving on to the Romans.
And, just some historic background to put all of this into perspective,
Rome conquered Greece in 146 BC,
and the vast Greek empire came under control of the Romans.
And, from an artistic point of view,
Rome inherited and carried forward the Greeks' vast cultural and artistic achievements,
that is to say that they assimilated it into their own culture,
rather than imposing their own artistic values on a new empire,
which tells us something about the Romans…
and, well, how they went about things.
So Greek sculpture formed the basis for the Roman style;
in particular, their bronzes showed a marked similarity.
And, in terms of output, they were just as prolific as their predecessors.
But one thing that stands out as distinctive is that,
where the Greeks tended to be... well… tended towards idealism and an archetypal perfection,
indeed a very romantic point of view,
the Romans added an element of realism,
such as men at work, and day to day life really…
and this is truly invaluable to us
because it shows us what technologies the Romans had,
which we would have no other evidence of,
because the originals, being made of wood, have rotted away.
I'm talking about things such as saws driven by water-wheels.
Now, keep in mind that we only know about these because of a relief that was found on the side of a miller's sarcophagus,
who, we can assume, used the machine.
Harvesting machines have also been depicted in stone.
Pliny the Elder wrote about these in his work Naturalis Historia,
but we have no visual representation of these apart from the sculptures.
And, another thing we've found out about while studying the sculpture, is their use of color in their sculpture.
Now, I know what you might be thinking right now… that this is a strange thing to say
because nowadays we see these Roman sculptures, and they're white, pure marble white,
and they look very elegant and striking,
and in many ways, angelic and unearthly…
and it's their lack of color which gives us this impression.
But actually that impression is quite wrong, because originally these statues were in colour,
and those Neo-classical sculptors who aspire to imitate that style…
by creating unadorned marble statues…
have quite got the wrong end of the stick.
We know this, from examining the faded stains and blotches on the surfaces of the sculpture,
we know what the original colors were, and what pigments and waxes they used to obtain them.
Interestingly, we can see that sculptors used different kinds of stone in their work depending on...
what they wanted to achieve.
For a glossy finish, for skin perhaps, they'd use one kind,
and if they wanted a particularly vibrant look, for clothing perhaps,
they'd use a stone with a… a different absorption capacity.
This attention to detail, when it comes to color,
can tell us a little bit more about Ancient Rome that we didn't know before.
Not just the way they created different colors and effects,
but also what people wore.
A replica of this statue Octavian, the first Roman emperor,
was recently displayed at an exhibition in the Vatican,
painted in the same way as it would have appeared well… long ago.
And, you can see here in the slide that you can see his scarlet robe,
a red and blue blouse and a bright yellow breastplate.
And here's the original one,
the one that we are more familiar with, which is well...
it just has a different… well… feel to it, wouldn't you agree?
The reproduction looks more cheerful, more vitalized,
but it loses something,
something of the sobriety and dignity that we tend to associate with ancient Rome.
It seems a little more mundane actually.
And, it tells us that the Romans were… well.. weren't quite so mysterious and...
enigmatic as perhaps we… well… give them credit for.
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