Roman Art

Roman Art and Architecture: Classic Roman Period Art 
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A Roman Patrician with Busts
of his Ancestors,
late 1st C BCE
Marble, lifesize
Classic Roman
Form: This lifesize naturalistic figure, which stands in contrapposto, is also realistic. The individualism of the figure's face and the portrait busts he holds is a bit of a departure from the idealism of the Classic Greek era.  Even during the Hellenistic period of Greek art, the figures were still extremely stylized.  In this case, the idea of a realistic likeness warts, balding, and wrinkles are recorded accurately.  This kind of realism is referred to as verism. This sculpture also incorporates as part of its initial design the use of supports, such as the plant form that supports the bust in the figure's right hand and the robes that support his left.  This is a bit different from the Roman marble copies of Greek bronze originals in which the supports were added as afterthoughts to the initial design to make up for the marble's lack of tensile strength.
Iconography:  This sculpture is a portrait but is also meant to show the lineage (ancestry) of the Roman patrician (leading citizen or founding father.  Literally comes from pater: father).  By holding effigies of his ancestors he is showing his importance and therefore it is fairly important to make sure that the likenesses express the character of the individual.
Context:  The culture of the Roman Empire was fairly different from the Greeks, but much of their plays, music, art, education, and way of representing themselves were based on the Greek culture.  Rome was originally founded as a republic which is a fairly democratic form of government similar to and somewhat based on Greek forms of government.  In a republic, an individual's rights as well as accomplishments can often distinguish them.  Paradoxically, the accomplishments of one's family can also distinguish the individual.  This might explain the increase of realism while still using some of the Greek schemas or conventions for sculpture.
Also see Stokstad's section Roman Funerary Practices
Some of the specific artistic forms and processes borrowed from the Greeks were,

  • the wet drapery style- drapery appears to hang on sculptures as if wetted. This shows off the anatomy underneath the cloth.
  • contrapposto- the subtle shift of weight at the hips that gives sculptures a more lifelike appearance.
  • the Greek orders

Head of a Roman Patrician from Ortricoli,
c75-50 BCE Marble approx. 14"
Museo Torlonia, Rome
Classic Roman
Head of an unknown Roman.
terra cotta with traces of color. 1st C BCE
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Classic Roman
Form:  The veristic style of the Roman Patrician above is also expressed in Roman portrait busts.  According to Gardner, the Romans, unlike the Greeks, believed that a sculpture of the head alone was enough to fulfill the requirements of creating a portrait of an individual.  The Greeks believed that one needed the whole body for an accurate portrait.  Nevertheless, in each of these busts, every feature is recorded faithfully, but, the age of the sitter and the verism of the portrait was probably influenced somewhat by the gender of the sitter. The materials also varied in portrait sculpture.  Marble and cast bronze were often used.  Often the scultures were polychromed as well.  In the case of some sculptures, and even cheaper material, such as terra cotta- was used and then painted with encaustic.  (Terra cotta is fired clay often with a bit of sand or gravel mixed in.)   The use of clay, in which both an additive and subtractive process can be used was probably convenient because with this form of sculpting mistakes can be fixed.
Iconography and Context:  At the start of 200 B.C. individuality was increasing. Sculptures were often produced to show the power and wealth of an individual such as a statesman or a military leader. The Roman Empire had representational form of government run by the Senate. The Senate system was powerful, however, some military leaders "ceasers" who had distinguished themselves in battle and through political coups, became emperors who considered themselves living gods. Often power was passed from relative to relative and through generations. Sculptures were made of these family members almost as a form of ancestor worship.
Interestingly enough these sculptures also express how the Romans viewed male and female roles in their society. Often portraits were made to show the men as older and distinguished, at a time in their lives when they were most powerful. Women are almost never depicted as aged. They are mostly depicted as young and beautiful. Since art was mainly produced and commissioned for a male audience it is possible to draw the conclusion that art reflects a dominantly male view of the world. This is often referred to by art historians and scholars as the "male gaze."

Young Flavian Woman. c 90 CE marble, height 25" Museo Capitolino, Classic Roman

Portrait of Augustus as General.
from Primaporta Rome, Italy
c20 B.C., 6'8''.
Vatican Museum, Rome
Classic Roman

Form:  This idealized portrait is possibly a copy of a bronze original.  The statue stands six feet eight inches tall and is made of white marble. The statue depicts a male figure wearing armor and some drapery, with his right arm raised. The figure carries a bronze spear or staff in his left hand. The texture of the hair and skin mimic the texture of real hair and skin. Augustus stands in contrapposto, appearing to be stepping forward with most of his weight resting on his right hip. Attached to his right leg is a small dolphin with a winged baby on its back. Iconography: This sculpture presents a more realistic portrait of Augustus than Greek portrait sculpture did however he is still idealized because he is the ideal.  The unnatural height of the statue is symbolic of the god-like status of Augustus. The figure's armor is a symbol of his role as a military leader. His raised right arm with an extended index finger appears as if he is gesturing or lecturing. According to Professor Farber, this is "called ad locutio gesture that traditionally conveyed the power of speech in Roman art."  This is symbolic of his abilities as a leader and a speaker. The bronze staff in its left hand is an icon that signifies his status as a leader. The statue appears to be stepping forward and most of the weight appears to be resting on his right hip. This pose referred to as contrapposto was first developed in classical Greece. The use of contrapposto represents a legacy inherited from the classic Greek culture. Engaged against the right leg is a small dolphin with a winged baby on its back. The dolphin is a maritime reference and the small winged figure on its back, may represent winged victory. The two icons when juxtaposed against one another may represent victory at sea. However, some interpretations of this iconography have suggested that the winged figure is Cupid and therefore represents Augustus relationship as a descendent of the gods.
Context: Augustus Caesar (1st century B.C.) was a dictator who considered himself a God.  He subverted the Roman republican, democratic system, but pretended it still existed by granting the senate some power.  This statue is probably one of the copies that  was placed as public art in many town squares as a work of political propaganda. Augustus waged an extremely profitable series of wars and was able to extend the Roman Empire's borders as well as control the Senate. The unnatural height of the statue is symbolic of the god-like status of Augustus because the average height was around five feet. His raised right arm symbolic of his abilities as a master orator refers to an earlier statue, the Aulus Metellus. The raised arm, a symbol of rhetorical power as a speaker is combined with the bronze staff and armor are references to the abilities that any Roman leader should possess. In some ways, this is the originating idea of our conception of the "Renaissance Man" of the 1500's. The references to the Aulus Metellus statue, contrapposto pose, invented by the classical Greek culture, and the Cupid, that represents Augustus as a descendent of the gods, grant both the Augustus Primaporta and Augustus authority based in time honored traditions.

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Colosseum, (Flavian Amphitheater) 
Rome Italy 70-80 CE
Classic Roman

Form: One of the major innovations in this building is the technology used to create it.  A combination of complex arches (see Stokstad for more in depth description) and concrete which is a building material which consists primarily of lime, cement, sand (pozzolana), and water with rubble mixed into it and as such is very inexpensive and easy to work with.   Since concrete can be easily molded or poured into a durable and strong stonelike substance, it was also used to create the arches and the internal filling of the walls. A an excellent student, Sue Che wrote,

with the invention of concrete, the Romans were much more daring in creating new styles in construction. They came out of the shell of ‘post and lintel’ and started with simple arches like the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamian. The simple arches such as the triumphal arches could not satisfy their creative minds, the Romans extended the arches and got the barrel vaults. To add more interests to the vaults, they were placed across or next to each other and created the groin vaults and the arcades. Finally, the easily bored Romans put all the ideas and efforts together and built this giant oval shaped amphitheater called the Colosseum. The whole structure was designed with arches, connected vaults and arcades. The outer façade is tiers of arches all the way around. When you go inside, barrel vaults and cross vaults support the tiers of seats for the audiences. It is truly amazing what the Romans can do when you put concrete in their hands.

Stokstad points out that it existed before but that the Romans perfected it and without many Roman building would not have been able to be created.  (Before you do the worksheet, make sure you read Stokstad for a more complete description of concrete and the different forms and ways it was used.)

The exterior walls were of a creamy colored calcium carbonate material called travertine, the inner walls of siliceous rock deposits called tufa, and the vaulting of the ramped seating area of monolithic concrete (for support). The fourth floor was embellished with Corinthian pilasters (ornamental) which carried wooden masts from which an awning was suspended to shield spectators from the sun. Composite are on top of the pilasters and are more visually and though makes the building look more taller. Marble and wooden seats accommodating up to about 50,000 spectators surrounded an arena measuring 280 ft by 175 ft. The floor of the arena was made of heavy wooden planks: chambers below the floor housed animals for the games.
quoted directly from:
Its construction was started by Vespasian in AD 69 and inaugurated in AD 80. This Amphitheater was very important because of arch technology. This building had four stories and its arches were framed by superimposed orders: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian or Composite. This orders were used to adorned several stories of a building, they were normally in an ascending sequence from heaviest to most slender.Doric order was assigned to the ground floor of the building,
Ionic order to the middle story, and
Corinthian order to the top story.

Iconography and Context:  According to the Britannica,

"CONSTRUCTION OF THE COLOSSEUM WAS BEGUN SOMETIME BETWEEN AD 70 and 72 during the reign of Vespasian; the structure was officially dedicated in AD 80 by Titus in a ceremony that included 100 days of games. Later, in AD 82, Domitian completed the work by adding the uppermost story."   The Colosseum was used by the Roman Empire to entertain the masses of people who lived in the city. Gladiators were often prisoners of war or criminals. Sometimes gladiators would fight one another and other times they would fight ravenous beasts. Enemies or individuals who were perceived as threats (a good portion were Christians) to the Roman Empire sometimes were thrown in the in the ring with wild animals. This was often done dramatically by utilizing elevators and trap doors that would raise the animals into the arena. Sometimes these atrocities were committed while a massive water powered organ made music that accompanied the events. This is one of the reasons why organ music does not become popular in the Catholic Church until around 1500.


Pantheon. AD 118-125
architect was possibly Emperor Hadrian Rome,
Rome, Italy
Classic Roman

Art 103A Term Paper
Sara E. Foster
Pantheon: the unknown truth
Form, Formal, Physical
The Pantheon is noted as one of the best-preserved monuments because of the building and landscape renovations that have been done throughout the centuries. It is surrounded by some of the original baths built by Agrippa as well as a few smaller temples by Hadrian and a long courtyard that leads to a church at the far end. According to William Mac Donald, the author of The Pantheon: design, meaning and progeny, the Pantheon has three major parts to its structure - the porch, the structural niches and the domed rotunda. The front of the building is the large porch with a series of columns that act as support and design. The columns throughout the monument were constructed of carved granite using the Corinthian order that was originally developed but the Greeks for interior use but soon afterward also used for the exterior of temples and other monuments. The outer perimeter walls of the entirety are 20 feet thick that raise nearly 75 feet high. These walls were put together using concrete and wood materials so that the architect and design crew could cover a large amount of interior space and create vast apparent ceilings. The dome rotunda is 143 feet in diameter and 143 feet in height supported by a circular wall known as the drum. The drum is deigned with block coffers that service as both esthetic and structural purposes. Structurally the coffers are used as a compression system: the building is stabilized by unabsorbed weight that is properly placed. There are a total of 143 coffers in 28 rows. The dome consists of 9/10th concrete that has been poured over an immersed hemispherical wooden form. Both the interior and exterior walls are believed to be finished with alabaster porphyry or marble for esthetic purposes. Coffers also give the human eye an illusion of the dome being lightweight and having depth. To show the richness and importance of this culture here are a few other examples of the materials used to create such a masterpiece. The floors were covered with a wide range of colored marble designed in geometric shapes, the doorframes were made of bronzed metal and the original roof was glided gold plates that were eventually replaced with lead plating.
Icon, Iconography, Symbol
The true iconography of the Pantheon is still questioned today but we do know that it is represented as a great spiritual building. When Hadrian created the building it was a house for all gods, which meant it was a non-religious monument. It housed the twelve major gods and goddesses: Jupiter, Juno, Neptune, Minerva, Apollo, Diana, Mars, Venus, Vulcan, Vesta, Mercury and Ceres who all represent something of good/bad nature in the world (Ebscohost). These gods are houses in the dome rotunda, which presents the visitor with a sense of emptiness and apotheosis, a feeling one could float upward to escape and commune with the gods. The circular design of the monument originally descends from two sources: religious buildings and tombs. They were never intended for internal visitor use, only external viewing because they questioned the safety of the structure and it was a sacred place that only priest could enter.
Context, Social, Historical
According to the Columbia Encyclopedia, the cities had public squares that were surrounded by buildings such as the Pantheon. The Roman’s built these to accommodate the vast expansion of the Roman Empire. When designing the Pantheon they were highly influenced by the Greek and Etruscan construction using arches and post and lintel; however the dome rotunda was primarily a Roman invention (Ebscohost). The argument still stands on who the buildings architect and creator really was - was it Marcus Agrippa or Hadrian? Before the Pantheon was built an earlier temple (in honor of the Anthony and Cleopatra defeat) accompanied the site which was built by Agrippa in 27 BC and burnt down in 110 BC. Then between 125 –128 CE Hadrian and still an unknown architect built the Pantheon. Historians do believe there was an actual architect that helped him because at that time Hadrian was just an amateur at what he did. Why then is the creator unknown? It is not clear whether or not Hadrian kept the originally porch and roof or if he recreated the original which says the following, "M`AGRIPPA`L`F`COS`TERTIVM`FECIT –Marcus Agrippa the son of Lucius, three times consul, built this (Mac Donald, pg.13)." Though it is clear that Hadrian constructed the monumental dome rotunda that makes the building so grand. When the Pantheon, a temple for all gods, was finished it was used to house the twelve Olympian gods but in 609 CE Pope Boniface IV dedicated it as the Christian church of St. Mary and the Martyrs. From that point in history that event brought the destruction of all of pagan temples to this day.

Roman Art in Pompeii

Pompeii 79 CE:Context:  Pompeii- on August 24, 79 AD a volcano on Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried two entire Roman resort towns near the coast under thousands of tons of volcanic ash. Poison gas was sprayed into the air and as it went down the heated gas killed all the people. The bodies which were covered with volcanic ash were destroyed but left a type of fossil impression in the dried ash and lava. The result was that the town and some of its people were completely preserved for archeologists and historians to uncover later. From the remains of the city we know how the people looked like, how they lived and how they did business. They had organized business and residential districts and paved streets. They even had hot and cold running water. The houses that were preserved by the ashes have left us with a good idea of what kind of lifestyle these people might have lead.

These plaster forms were made by pouring plaster into the air pockets created by the bodies of Pompeiian who were covered with volcanic ash.  The bodies disintegrated or burned and left hollows.  Some of the gestures and expressions are so life like that we can almost guess as to what they were thinking and we can actually see some figures protecting other figures.

Form:  The city was walled and laid out in a logical grid line plan that was divided into several zoned sections that were defined by the main roads named the upper and lower decumanus and cardo maxiumus.  These names were invented by modern archeologists. The sections were zoned as our own cities are today, with a forum (civic areas and shopping centers,) residential quadrants, entertainment areas with theaters and amphitheaters and combined areas.
Iconography:  One would think that a city plan would not really be symbolic of anything but on closer inspection there is a lot of symbolism.  The city plan is evolved from both Greek and Etruscan culture's plans and in this way indicates that the Romans emulated them and saw themselves as heirs to these cultures.
The triumphal arch (Herculaneum Gate) which served as the entrance to the town was basically a useless arch that was there as a symbol.  The use of the arch and the symbolic gate it covered was a way of expressing just how Roman they were.
The city plans also install order on the plan of the city which represents the Roman mission in the world which they saw as civilizing the barbarians and bringing order to the world.  It also segregated, the way they spent their time and divided the rich from the poor, the sacred from the profane.

Street in Pompeii with stones for walking across.
Form: The cobbled city streets had drainage ditches, sidewalks and were laid out in a standard size because axle lengths were standardized throughout the empire.  The standardized sizes allowed the installation of walkways (the three stones across the street) that would allow pedestrians to walk above the street when it was filled with rain and avoid the horse poop and mud.  The stones also acted as a kind of "speed bump" because the carts would have to slow down to enable themselves to move through the ruts.Iconography:  The cliché "all roads lead to Rome" applies here in the idea that the Romans really believed that a solid civic infrastructure symbolized order and civilization. 

Brawl in the Pompeii amphitheater,
Fresco from  House I,3,23 Pompeii
c. 60-79 CE  5'7"x6'1"
Naples National Museum
Empire Period
Form:  Fresco is a term that literally means "fresh."  There are two kinds, buon fresco and fresco secco.  This painting painting is made by coating a wall with plaster and while the wall is still damp, ground up pigments are mixed with water and lime and painted on the wall.  The paint soaks in and literally stains the wall up to a half an inch and becomes permanent.  This is called buon fresco (good fresh).  Details with more expensive colors (such as blue made from lapis lazuli) are added with tempera paint (egg yolks and glue) when the fresco is dry.  This is called secco fresco (dry fresh). This fresco depicts Pompeii's arena which was there version of the Colosseum, where gladiatorial events took place.  The building is rendered with the illusion of space called intuitive perspective and isometric perspective.  (This kind of perspective is not as illusionistic as the linear perspective that is invented during the Renaissance around 1400 CE.)

Iconography:  Walls in both public and private homes were often decorated with frescos during the Roman era and it was a symbol of the person's status to be able to afford such decoration.  This fresco is rather like our posters and paintings of sports today and it expresses the importance of such activities in their culture.  Usually the gladiators who performed in such games were originally criminals or enemies of the state, however, if they were successful they became heroes of a kind and their careers were followed by fans.
Context:  In 59 CE Pompeii hosted a game in which they competed with their neighbors the Nucerians.  A brawl erupted and a riot ensued which was similar to the soccer riots of today.  The riots and loss of life and property were so severe that the central government issued a decree that Pompeii was forbidden to have gladiatorial games for ten years.
The fresco shows the velarium a cloth awning that protected arenas like this as well as the double set of steps that allowed the quick entrance and departure of the spectators.

Portrait bust of a Boy from the
Popidous Family of Pompeii
before 79 CE
plaster with traces of encaustic paint
Form:  The veristic style of the Roman Patrician above is also expressed in Roman portrait busts.  According to Gardner, the Romans, unlike the Greeks, believed that a sculpture of the head alone was enough to fulfill the requirements of creating a portrait of an individual.  The Greeks believed that one needed the whole body for an accurate portrait.  Nevertheless, in each of these busts, every feature is recorded faithfully, but, the age of the sitter and the verism of the portrait was probably influenced somewhat by the gender of the sitter. This sculpture was originally part of a larger figure that was hurt or destroyed in an earlier earthquake or eruption.  The head was preserved and placed on a stand however the nose had been broken off.  The broken nose was replaced with a bit of plaster to fill in the broken off portion.
Iconography and Context:  Portraiture like this was probably valuable in both an economic as well as in more sentimental and  familial context and that would explain why, rather than creating a new sculpture they repaired this one.  This sculpture also provides us with a record of one of the catastrophes the people of Pompeii lived with before the final one of 79 CE.

Form:  Many of the streets of Pompeii were lined with two story town houses.  These homes were made from brick and concrete which was later veneered with stucco, plaster and even marble.  The rooves were made from wood and often had awnings which jutted out over the sidewalks.  The fronts of these buildings usually contained shops that opened out on to the streets.  The more elaborate stores were two level and had windows that opened out above.  Located through a short passageway was usually a more elaborate or expensive dwelling that was the home of a wealthier family.  (see the floor plan below or Stokstad figure 6-52)Iconography:  These home/shop organization was integral to and symbolized the economic health that supported the infrastructure of Rome and its towns.  To own such a home in itself demonstrated the wealth and prestige of the landlord.  The types of shops fronting the homes was also up to the discretion of the zoning of the town as well as the homeowner who lived behind the shop.
Context:  These houses had hot and cold running water and a plumbing system that ran underneath the house.  The center of the house had an open skylight above the atrium which caught fresh water and was stored in a cistern usually underneath or at the rear of the house's garden.

Form:  The typical atrium style house of Pompeii was fronted by the shops (1).  The structure usually housed a main house and sometimes even an additional ones (7) was rented out.  The fauces (latin for throat) or vestibulum (2) was a thin passageway that led into the atrium (8) in which the an open skylight above the atrium caught fresh water.  A similar open air peristyle courtyard (9) was located further in and the bedrooms, dining room, bathrooms, kitchen and other service areas radiated out from.  A vegetable garden in addition to the the flower garden provided delicacies such as fresh fruit and staples such as vegetables.Context:  These atrium style houses were really apartment houses and commercial districts combined into one structure.  As such, they were an incredible investment for the wealthy owner.  Not only were they self sufficient in terms of food, the rental on the shops and additional dwellings often paid for whatever loans and taxes owed on the complex.

Mosaic in the Fauces of an Atrium
Style House.
Form:  Mosaics were made from small blocks of stone, ceramic tile or glass called tesserae.  These blocks were then pushed into either plaster, for walls, or cement, for floors.  The blocks, when placed together combined together like the pixels on a computer screen to make an image.  When one looks at the the images from a distance the blocks of color one next to the other mix because the eye would blend them together.  This is called optical mixing.  Depending on the skill of the workman/artisan, the work could be extremely realistic of cartoonish.  These were a particularly durable form of decoration as they were impervious to staining and fading.  Further up in this photo you can see the impluvium (pool) of the atrium.Iconography/Context:  The location and subject of this mosaic makes a lot of sense.  The image of the dog in the front hallway is apotropaic and roughly the equivalent of an alarm sticker on a window or "beware of dog sign."  In fact some mosaics are accompanied with the latin "cave canum" which means literally translates "beware of dog" and indicates a high degree of literacy if they expected a thief to be able to read the warning.

Two atriums from houses in Pompeii

The lead pipes which moved the water through the houses.
The next stop in the house was the atrium.  The latin word for heart or chamber is atrium and  this room is where the water was gathered from an opening in the ceiling and then collected further back in the house in a cistern. In the center of the atrium was the impluvium or pool that collected the water.  In the image on the left you can see a fountain and a sink.This room, as almost every room in the house, had a mosaic floor, and frescoes on all the walls.  Depending on the home, some rooms even had special themes and addressed specific stories.
This room is where a guest could stop and wash up before meeting with the occupants.  Bathing was an important part of Roman culture and there were even bathrooms with hot and cold running water.  The pipes that moved the water were made from a soft lead which in itself is a bit of health hazard and probably caused the early death of some of the wealthier citizens of Pompeii who could afford such luxuries..

Peristyle Court
Peristyle Court at the house of Vetii
Form:  These peristyle courtyards had ornate sculpture and flower gardens surrounded by a perimeter of stylos (latin for column).  The perimeter columns held up the roof overhang under which furniture was placed.  The columns were often made of marble and often there was marble veneer on the concrete and brick wall.  The wall of the courtyard were often decorated with mosaics and or fresco.Iconography/Context:  The peristyle is almost misnamed because it is truly the atrium (latin for heart) of the house.  This is where the family gathered and in essence it was an outside living room.  Here air and light flowed through the space but the occupants would not be bothered by the noises and smells of the street.

Mosaic portrait from Pompeii

 Fresco from the House of the Baker,
The baker and his wife
Context:  The sculpture we have seen already demonstrates the Roman propensity and desire for accurate portraiture.  This desire to have a likeness made was not limited to just the wealthy or upper class but also to anyone who might be able to afford such work to be made.
The image on the top is a fresco.    Fresco is a term that literally means "fresh."  There are two kinds, buon fresco and fresco secco.  This painting painting is made by coating a wall with plaster and while the wall is still damp, ground up pigments are mixed with water and lime and painted on the wall.  The paint soaks in and literally stains the wall up to a half an inch and becomes permanent.  This is called buon fresco (good fresh).  Details with more expensive colors (such as blue made from lapis lazuli) are added with tempera paint (egg yolks and glue) when the fresco is dry.  This is called secco fresco (dry fresh).
Mosaics were made from small blocks of stone, ceramic tile or glass called tesserae.  These blocks were then pushed into either plaster, for walls, or cement, for floors.  The blocks, when placed together combined together like the pixels on a computer screen to make an image.  When one looks at the the images from a distance the blocks of color one next to the other mix because the eye would blend them together.  This is called optical mixing.  Depending on the skill of the workman/artisan, the work could be extremely realistic of cartoonish.  These were a particularly durable form of decoration as they were impervious to staining and fading.
Iconography:  The image on the left of the Baker and his wife depicts a couple how they would like to be seen.  The baker holds a scroll and his wife holds a wax tablet and a stylus that would have been used to scratch out notes and practice writing.  In all probability, the baker and his wife were either illiterate or semiliterate, yet they hold symbols of their literacy and therefore intelligence.  This is how they wanted to be seen.
In both images the portraits are verist images; however, as in the portrait of Augustus they were probably "prettied up" a bit.  Their features are a bit idealized and their hair a bit too styled.

Iconography:  Frescoes like this one depicting fruit and glasses or pure water were symbolic of the pleasures of every day life and perhaps of the delicacies one might desire.  Fruit was not available all year and it is one of the fleeting pleasures.  The depictions of fruit and other delicacies, such as Herakleitos' Unswept Floor (fig 6-58) are references to the wealth of the patron and the skill of the artist.  The clear vessel of water is what is referred to as an artist's conceit or concetto (italian for conceit) because painting a transparent vessel is one of the harder things to paint.

The Three Graces
Fresco from Pompeii before 79 CE

Theseus and the slain Minotaur with the
Athenian youths.
Fresco from Pompeii before 79 CE
Formal:  These two frescos depict idealized human figures, all standing in the classic contrapposto pose, rendered with light and shadow.  The use of light and shadow, or value structure, to depict volume is sometimes referred to as chiaroscuro.  Chiaroscuro literally translates into Italian as light and shadow or dark and light.In the fresco depicting Theseus and the minotaur with the Athenian youths, is fairly complex in how it depicts space.  For example, the figures are placed in and around an architectural structure and the body of the Minotaur is depicted in a foreshortened pose.  As the head and torso of the Minotaur project into the foreground they begin to look shorter than if the view was a strict profile view.
Iconographic:  Both of these images are powerful symbolic statements of the kinds of values the Romans held.
The Three Graces, represent the three most important qualities a Roman could possess beauty, grace, and intellect (which was linked to virtue).
The image of Theseus links him to the Doryphoros and to other images of athletic youths who possess kalos.  The Minotaur is a composite creature, that symbolizes antithetical qualities to our human hero.  The bull head represents certain negative qualities.
Context:  The story of Theseus and the Minotaur at the heart of the maze would have a certain amount of resonance for citizens of the Roman empire because the maze represents the Minoan government lead by the evil King Minos and the Minotaur in its center, is represents the heart of Minos's problems as a ruler.
(see the Legend of the Minotaur in Stokstad page 134). or go here : n, pl -ros [It, fr. chiaro clear, light + oscuro obscure, dark] (1686) 1: pictorial representation in terms of light and shade without regard to color 2 a: the arrangement or treatment of light and dark parts in a pictorial work of art b: the interplay or contrast of dissimilar qualities (as of mood or character) 3: a 16th century woodcut technique involving the use of several blocks to print different tones of the same color; also: a print made by this technique 4: the interplay of light and shadow on or as if on a surface 5: the quality of being veiled or partly in n, pl frescoes
[It, fr. fresco fresh, of Gmc origin; akin to OHG frisc fresh] (1598)
1: the art of painting on freshly spread moist lime plaster with water-based pigments
2: a painting executed in fresco -- fresco vt
The term fresco comes from the Italian word for fresh.  The paint is applied quickly in fresh patches of plaster that haven't had a chance to dry yet.  This allows the paint to sink into the plaster and stain it sometimes up to a quarter of an inch below the surface of the wall.
In buon fresco, which literally means "good fresh," the water color and lime (the mineral not the fruit) are painted directly on damp plaster that has just been applied.
Fresco secco (Italian for "dry fresh") is a little less permanent and the paint sometimes can flake off the walls.  Paint and especially details and expensive colors are applied to sections of the mural that have already dried.  The medium in this case is either tempera (egg and water) or some kind of glue usually made from animal skin or some sort of dairy product.

According to the Brittanica,

Fresco is a method of painting water-based pigments on freshly applied plaster, usually on wall surfaces. The colours, which are made by grinding dry-powder pigments in pure water, dry and set with the plaster to become a permanent part of the wall. Fresco painting is ideal for making murals because it lends itself to a monumental style, is durable, and has a matte surface.Buon', or "true," fresco is the most durable technique and consists of the following process. Three successive coats of specially prepared plaster, sand, and sometimes marble dust are troweled onto a wall. Each of the first two rough coats is applied and then allowed to set (dry and harden). In the meantime, the artist, who has made a full-scale cartoon (preparatory drawing) of the image that he intends to paint, transfers the outlines of the design onto the wall from a tracing made of the cartoon. The final, smooth coat (intonaco) of plaster is then troweled onto as much of the wall as can be painted in one session. The boundaries of this area are confined carefully along contour lines, so that the edges, or joints, of each successive section of fresh plastering are imperceptible. The tracing is then held against the fresh intonaco and lined up carefully with the adjacent sections of painted wall, and its pertinent contours and interior lines are traced onto the fresh plaster; this faint but accurate drawing serves as a guide for painting the image in colour.
A correctly prepared intonaco will hold its moisture for many hours. When the painter dilutes his colours with water and applies them with brushstrokes to the plaster, the colours are imbibed into the surface, and as the wall dries and sets, the pigment particles become bound or cemented along with the lime and sand particles. This gives the colours great permanence and resistance to aging, since they are an integral part of the wall surface, rather than a superimposed layer of paint on it. The medium of fresco makes great demands on a painter's technical skill, since he must work fast (while the plaster is wet) but cannot correct mistakes by overpainting; this must be done on a fresh coat of plaster or by using the secco method.
Secco ("dry") fresco is a somewhat superficial process that dispenses with the complex preparation of the wall with wet plaster. Instead, dry, finished walls are soaked with limewater and painted while wet. The colours do not penetrate into the plaster but form a surface film, like any other paint. Secco has always held an inferior position to true fresco, but it is useful for retouching the latter.
The origins of fresco painting are unknown, but it was used as early as the Minoan civilization (at Knossos on Crete) and by the ancient Romans (at Pompeii). The Italian Renaissance was the great period of fresco painting, as seen in the works of Cimabue, Giotto, Masaccio, Fra Angelico, Correggio, and many other painters from the late 13th to the mid-16th century. Michelangelo's paintings in the Sistine Chapel and Raphael's Stanza murals in the Vatican are the most famous of all frescoes. By the mid-16th century, however, the use of fresco had largely been supplanted by oil painting. The technique was briefly revived by Diego Rivera and other Mexican Muralists in the first half of the 20th century.



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