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The Art of Ancient Rome: Eclectic Tendencies

Abstract

The paper examines various art types of Ancient Rome from the historical perspective of the emergence, development, and decline of the state. Tracing intercultural influences in art, including theater, religious and philosophical systems that formed the basis for representations in art, architecture, visual arts, and other forms of symbolization, the paper argues that Roman art of all periods was essentially eclectic. Eclecticism manifested itself in most areas of both spiritual and material culture and was conditioned by the synthesis, first of all, of Etruscan, Hellenistic, and Egyptian styles and paradigms. This led to the fact that Roman art rarely reflected the reality of the state, representing a mixture of meanings, beliefs, symbols, and achievements of other cultures.

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Introduction

Eclecticism as a way of labeling is central in architecture and means mixing, combining distinct styles, views, the use of any form of the past in one building in any combination, and usually takes place during the period of change of large art systems. Usually, the concept of “eclecticism” in architecture is opposed to the concept of “style”(Touchette, 2015). Today there are many definitions of style. Style can be understood as a general cultural phenomenon, “style of the era” and as a certain historically established commonality of the figurative system in architecture and art, the unity of methods and the similarity of compositional methods of organizing the form, a certain logic of interconnection of the functional organization of the plan and the volumetric solution of the building, its structure, and decorative elements. And eclecticism seems to imply the absence of all this.

Now it is already becoming clear that the eclecticism of Rome is not an accident and not the only phenomenon of its kind in the history of architecture. Historical and genetic research of the entire process of European style formation has shown that various types of eclecticism have accompanied architecture along the entire path of its development since ancient times and were quite natural during the crisis periods of the search for further ways of development of architecture (Touchette, 2015). In this paper, art is understood in the broadest sense as material and spiritual representations of a community’s ideology, values, and aspirations. In order to reveal the roots of Roman art’s eclecticism, the author also analyzes the links between science, philosophy, and other fundamental endeavors essential for the construction of the basis for artistic expressions and manifestations. Roman art has four periods, and in the third part of the paper, they will be revealed in the framework of the analysis of the development and transformation of art and the ideology of the state.

The Eclecticism of Roman Art

The Hellenistic states that arose before our era existed for a relatively short time. By the 11th – 1st centuries BC, Rome had conquered the majority of them (Dunstan, 2010). Since that time, the territory which is currently occupied by Italy has become the center of ancient culture. It absorbed all the achievements of the various cultures in this region. It is safe to say that the Etruscan culture was of extreme importance in this, which is also confirmed by the fact that for several centuries the definition of “mysterious Etruscans” has not left the pages of scientific works (Ceccarelli, 2016). Great Rome took a lot from their culture and passed on its heritage to European civilization. After Rome subjugated the Etruscan cities, the educated and noble representatives of their ancient families continued to play a prominent role. Moreover, it can be said that it was the Etruscans and their culture that determined the face of the culture of the new Rome since it was from Etruria that the first Roman kings, many representatives of legislation, and cultural figures originated (Jolivet & Turfa, 2013). In fact, the Etruscans determined the direction of the cultural policy of the state.

The Romans borrowed craft and architecture techniques, writing, the so-called Roman numerals, fortune-telling, and the entrails of animals from Etruscans. The clothes of the Romans – toga – were also borrowed; the architecture of a house with an atrium – a courtyard (Jolivet & Turfa, 2013). At first, Roman religion was animalistic. However, it evolved under the influence of Etruscan culture and transformed into an anthropomorphic endeavor. By the royal era, it became a powerful social institution in charge of all the main events of public life (Rüpke, 2016).

Later on, Etruscan rule and domination ended in 510 BC, and Rome became an aristocratic slave republic (Wyke, 2013). The period of the early republic spans 6 – 3 centuries BC. During this period, Roman culture infused high Greek one as a result of the conquest of certain Greek territories of Southern Italy (Wyke, 2013). Gradually, Etruscan heritage becomes more and more replaced by Greek heritage, which manifested itself in various everyday life patterns and artistic representation. An important step here was the change from the Etruscan alphabet to the Greek one, which formed the basis for the Latin language (Duston, 2010). By the middle of the 11th century BC Rome became a mighty Mediterranean power; however, at about the same time, the internal political situation in the state changed – civil wars began, leading to the fall of the republic.

The late republican era led to the development of eclecticism in Roman art and life since Ancient Rome by that time combined many principles borrowed from Etruria, Italic, Greek, with native Roman ones (Wyke, 2013). The main feature of a newly emerged cultural movement (3rd century BC) was the influence of Greek culture, the Greek language, and education (Gagarin, 2010). For young and noble Romans, it was considered compulsory to master everything that was taught in Greece. Rome formed its intellectual elite. However, besides this, the needs for educated people were met at the expense of educated slaves – the Greeks. As Gold (2012) states, art in Rome was represented by predominantly non-Romans, including prose writers and poets, architects, and other art people.

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Rome cared about the culture of its citizens, for which the accumulation in Rome of paintings and statues exported from Greek cities, exhibited in squares and temples and served as models for Roman masters, was of great importance. Thus, both the nobility and the lay people could learn the Greek culture. Starting from the 3rd century BC era, Roman religion started reworking the Greek religion. The Roman gods double the Greek deities: Jupiter became Zeus, Neptune – Poseidon, Pluto – Hades, Mars – Arrest, Juno – Hero, Minerva – Athena, Ceres – Demeter, Venus – Aphrodite, Vulcan – Hephaestus, Mercury – Hermes, and Diana became Artemis (Dunstan, 2010). Ancient Italian origin was the home gods – Lara, Genius (Dunstan, 2010). An important detail here is that the Roman pantheon was never a finished composition since it was always open to the creation (and borrowing) of new gods and deities.

The Roman preference of applied sciences and especially the science of law illustrates their practical thinking. Already from the 3rd century BC, one could get the advice of a professional lawyer. By the 2nd century, Romans had established an extensive legal literature represented by the works of authors such as Mucius Scevala and Servius Sulpicius Rufus (Perry, 2002). Eloquence also developed – rhetoric, the outstanding representative of which was Cicero (106 – 43 BC). His brilliant rhetorical talent is evidenced not only by more than 50 completely preserved speeches but also by essays on the theory of rhetoric (Perry, 2002). Roman education was also subordinated to practical goals. In the 11th – 1st centuries BC in Rome, a reworked Greek education system was established. The hierarchy of sciences was changed, and the preference was given to legal sciences, languages, and literature. These subjects were studied in the framework of Roman history construction (Perry, 2002). During this period, a more pragmatic focus on education flourished, and the science of rhetoric was in favor (Perry, 2002). At the same time, Greek cultural centers were essential places for educational trips.

The formation of Roman literature was influenced by both Italian folk art and classical Greek literature. In fact, the first literary works in Latin were the translations of Greek literature (Gold, 2012). For example, the first poet Libya Andronicus (3rd century BC), was mainly preoccupied with the translation of the Greek dramaturgy into Latin, and one of the most essential translations was Homer’s Odyssey (Gold, 2012). However, his translations were very loose, allowing the inclusion of new passages and changing names. The most prominent writer of the late 3rd – early 2nd centuries BC was Plautus (c. 250-184 BC) – the famous comedian. Roman realities are reflected in his comedies, although the heroes act in Greek cities and have Greek names (Wyke, 2013). Somewhat later, Terentius wrote his comedies (190-159 BC), who, unlike Plautus, tried not to use Roman plots and mainly retold the works of Greek authors, especially Menander (Wyke, 2013). The Roman tragedy was even more imitative, weakly connected with Roman reality (Wyke, 2013).

The origins of Roman historiography date back to the calendars of the pontiff priests. In the republican era, the most outstanding contribution to its development was made by Sallust (86-35 BC – “Catiline’s Conspiracy,” “Yugurtin War”), as well as the great commander, dictator Gaius Julius Caesar, who left his descendants “Notes on the Gallic War” (Dunstan, 2010). The development of philosophy was influenced by Greek culture, where the teachings of the Epicureans and Stoics were the most widespread (Dunstan, 2010). Independent philosophical systems were not created in Rome.

Roman architecture was strongly influenced by Etruscan and especially Greek. In their buildings, the Romans strove to emphasize the idea of ​​strength, power, greatness (Dunstan, 2010). They are characterized by monumentality and utilitarian principles of architecture manifesting themselves in the construction of buildings for mainly practical needs (Bernard, 2018). At the same time, Romans developed their own architectural principles, domes and vaults being one of the most prominent of them (Bernard, 2018). In the 2-1 century BC began to be widely used concrete, vaulted structures. New types of buildings appear, for example, basilicas designed for trade deals and court, amphitheaters designed for gladiatorial fights, circuses for chariot competitions, baths, usually surrounded by a park with bath rooms, libraries and other places for leisure. Another new prominent type of architectural structure appears — the triumphal arch (Bernard, 2013). Active construction of bridges and aqueducts became possible due to the development and improvement of the arch construction technique.

The eclectic tendencies characteristic of Rome in many areas of spiritual material culture led to the combination of the cults of the supreme gods of Egypt Isis and Osiris / Serapis with the cults of the Roman pantheon as evidenced by the stylized images (Gagarin, 2010). Isis turned into a figure of a universal deity: her cult spread in all parts of the Roman Empire, but her images are performed in the tradition of Greek or Roman sculpture (Pollini, 2012). Attributes indicate the connection with the ancient goddess: a jug of sacred water, a sistrum, a crown in the form of a lotus, clothes tied in a knot on the chest (a symbol of fertility). The work emphasizes that the richest repository and an example of how the Egyptian style influenced the design of space in ancient Rome is the sanctuary of Isis seum Campensis (Pollini, 2012). Iseum was decorated with obelisks, statues of Horus, Isis, Serapis, sculptures of Hathor, sphinxes, and baboons. The architecture of the ensemble was a synthesis of the Hellenistic, Egyptian and Roman styles. Even the architectural elements of the complex, unknown to Ancient Egypt, were stylized and then spread as “Egyptian.”

The widespread use of Egyptian elements in architecture and art under Emperor Hadrian gave reason to consider the 2nd century BC the period of the first wave of “Egyptomania.” This was largely due to the fact that by the era of Hellenism and, moreover, Pax Romana, archaic, “Homeric” concepts were largely outdated (Wyke, 2013). Early ancient ideas about death and posthumous existence were quite pessimistic. In societies ruled primarily by military elites, the path to vita felix was open mainly for a few heroes.

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However, as the social structure of the ancient world became more complex, the fundamental ideological need for belief in the possibility of a posthumous resurrection to a happy afterlife contributed to a decrease in interest in a number of traditional cults in favor of those that, in the view of the ancient man, gave such a chance (Rupke, 2016). In the process of expanding the boundaries of the Pax Romana with the culture of Egypt, with its three thousand-year-old ideas about the afterlife and elaborate religious rituals aimed at a safe transit to the afterlife, the ancient world in many ways found a temporary answer to its main ideological request. In turn, traditional Egyptian deities, due to their mythological multifunctionality and iconographic polymorphism, were initially predisposed to the processes of syncretism (Rupke, 2016). Some of them were associated by the Greeks and Romans with several deities of the ancient pantheon at once and, as a result, gradually assumed the functions of their ancient “analogs”, assuming an increasingly universalist character. In the Roman era, interest in deities of Egyptian origin in the provinces was further enhanced by the influence of the culture of the metropolis, which had already included them in its pantheon (Wyke, 2013). At the Villa Hadrian in Tivoli, the symbolic image of the Alexandrian Canopic was reproduced with the temple of Serapis, the figures of the pharaohs, Osiris, the statue of Isis, sculptures of crocodiles, various flora and fauna (Pollini, 2012). The canon of Villa Hadrian became a memorial to his deified favorite Antinous. He was portrayed both in the Egyptian guise in the image of Osiris, and in the Greek, in the images of Dionysus, Hercules, and Hermes.

The plunder of cities was intrinsically linked to the conquest of Greece. Romans imported huge numbers of not only slaves but also pieces of art like statues and paintings. Thus, the works of Scopas, Praxiteles, Disippos, Apelles, and other prominent Greek masters were transported here (Dunstan, 2010). Mass copying resulted in the absence of incentives for Roman sculpture to develop in its originality yet at the same time helped save the Greek heritage since many of the Greek works have come down to us only in Roman copies (Wyke, 2013). The way Romans contributed to the sculpture development was also infused with other culture’s influence since they used Etruscan’s traditions (Wyke, 2013). Portrait statues gain dominant importance in Roman sculpture, and it is in them that their originality is manifested. The Romans created the type of statue togatus, depicting an orator in a toga, and busts, distinguished by the extreme simplicity and honed veracity of images (Wyke, 2013). In the 2nd – 1st centuries BC, such excellent works as “Brutus,” “Orator,” busts of Cicero, and Caesar were created.

The era of the early empire – principate (late 1st century BC – 2nd century AD) – the heyday of the Roman state. It turned into a huge empire that included the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa, and most of Europe. The era of the early empire is commonly referred to as the “Culture of the Age of Augustus” (Dunstan, 2010). During the reign of Octavian Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD), Roman culture experienced a brilliant heyday, its “golden age.” Roman values, half-forgotten religious rituals, legends about the “valor of ancestors,” “Roman myth” (the legend about the power over the world supposedly intended for Rome by the gods and the very fate of power over the world), were now emphasized in every possible way and were one of the main themes of all cultural figures of that time (Dunstan, 2010). The “Roman myth” merged with the “myth of Augustus” – the peacemaker, deliverer from suffering. These two mythologemes became the cornerstone of the official ideology of the empire. In the “Age of Augustus,” the synthesis of Greek and Roman culture was completed (Wyke, 2013). Under the influence of the final assimilation and processing of the Hellenic heritage, science, literature, art reached high perfection, and ancient culture was finally formed, which entered as an essential component in European culture.

In the period of the late empire (late 3rd – late 5th centuries), the form of the Roman state changed: the principate gave way to the dominant – an unlimited monarchy of the eastern type, devoid of any republican features (Gagarin, 2010). With the establishment of the dominant, the situation in the empire was somewhat normalized, but centrifugal forces continued to operate, and in 395, the empire finally disintegrated into the Western (centered in Rome) and Eastern (centered in Constantinople – Greek Byzantium). The history of the culture of the late antique period takes place in the struggle of the decaying ancient tradition with new, Christian principles. Christianity arises based on the idea of ​​expectation of a savior messiah which was popular in the eastern regions of the empire (Gagarin, 2010). Later, throughout the process of its development, early Christianity combines with specific Eastern religions and cults’ elements, philosophy, and social utopias (Dunstan, 2010). Such a novel religion aroused suspicion from the authorities and led to hostility and persecution after the official ban in the 3rd century.

However, already in 313, Emperor Constantine (272-337) issued a verdict, which allowed Christians to freely profess their religion, build temples, and hold public office. Thus, Christianity was recognized as an equal religion and gradually turned into a state (Pollini, 2012). Since that time, Christianity has influenced many beginnings, destroyed traditions, and introduced a lot of terrible education into the perception of the world. It was at this time that the destruction of pagan temples began, the Olympic Games were prohibited, sacred forests (sacred groves) were destroyed, established and revered values ​​were destroyed (Pollini, 2012). The flesh and everything connected with it begin to be destroyed. The mythology of the virgin birth and birth of Christ is understood literally, and everything connected with other interpretations is declared sinful and, naturally, is persecuted. The triumph of the Christian religion resulted in the destruction of many monuments of ancient culture.

Conclusion

The paper demonstrates that in Roman art, the tendency of eclecticism is present: throughout the development of the state, a particular stable style was not observed, and a variety of historicisms were used, imitating the art and culture of other states. Etruria, Ancient Greece, and Egypt had a significant influence on the mix of artistic endeavors. At the same time, the paper also argues that such eclecticism in art is linked to that of philosophy and science, which were also borrowed and reworked by Romans. At the same time, art in Ancient Rome did not escape the obvious politicization. The state quite early realized the political significance of art and reworked other people’s traditions in the framework of supporting the state and strengthening it. Borrowed symbols, techniques, and intellectual traditions blended in the art of Rome to create their own unique narrative of meaning.

References

Bernard, S. (2018). Building mid-Republican Rome: labor, architecture, and the urban economy. Oxford University Press.

Ceccarelli, L. (2016). The Romanization of Etruria. A Companion to the Etruscans, 28-40.

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Dunstan, W. E. (2010). Ancient Rome. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Gagarin, M. (2010). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome (Vol. 1). Oxford University Press.

Gold, B. K. (Ed.). (2012). Literary and artistic patronage in ancient Rome. University of Texas Press.

Jolivet, V., & Turfa, J. M. (2013). A long twilight (396-90 BC): Romanization of Etruria. The Etruscan World, 151-179.

Perry, E. E. (2002). Rhetoric, literary criticism, and the Roman aesthetics of artistic imitation. Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome. Supplementary Volumes, 1, 153-171.

Pollini, J. (2012). From republic to empire: rhetoric, religion, and power in the visual culture of ancient Rome (Vol. 48). University of Oklahoma Press.

Rüpke, J. (2016). On Roman religion: Lived religion and the individual in ancient Rome (Vol. 67). Cornell University Press.

Touchette, L. A. (2015). Archaism and Eclecticism. The Oxford Handbook of Roman Sculpture, 292.

Wyke, M. (2013). Projecting the past: ancient Rome, cinema and history. Routledge.

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