The Roman civilization is the best known of all the civilizations of the ancient world. The Romans have left a vast literary legacy that allows one to trace the history of ancient Rome in an abundance of detail that never ceases to amaze him. The outstanding achievement of the fine arts of the Roman era is the sculptural portrait. The role of the Roman portrait in the history of world art is determined by its deep vital truth and approval of the realistic method in the depiction of the unique individuality of a person.
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The majority of Roman sculptural portraits of the first half and middle of I century BC are characterized by verism – realism, transforming into naturalism. Within the framework of this style, classical portraits are created which are stunningly realistic. The portraits focus on the depiction of unattractive, ugly, and often vividly individual faces, especially those of distinguished old men. The whole Roman culture of that period was permeated with a striving for individualism and was characterized by a very sober, concrete perception of the world. For example, the portrait statues and busts of Emperor Octavian Augustus depict him as young, in the prime of life, of athletic build and classical beauty. The ceremonial portraits of Augustus which show him in all his imperial glory, however, also bring out his individual features which remind the viewer of verism.
The numerous portraits of Augustus’ successor, Tiberius, are also idealized. An ennobled image, and at the same time decidedly individual. Something unsympathetic, bilious and withdrawn peeked at in the portrait of the Emperor, who had unlimited power, was cruel and at the same time felt brutal fear for his life. The portrait is highly dynamic, realistic, painterly, emotional, and theatrical.
The Roman genius, so clearly recognizable in any other field of human activity, becomes surprisingly elusive when we consider whether there was a style in art at all peculiar to ancient Rome. The most obvious explanation is that the Romans worshipped Greek art of all ages and styles. They exported originals created there by the thousands from Greece and copied them in even greater numbers. In addition, what was created in Rome itself was a clear imitation of Greek examples, and many of the sculptors and painters who worked there were of Greek origin. Therefore, there are many similarities in the style of Roman sculptural portraits with the idealism that was promoted in Greek culture. For example, the portrait sculpture of Emperor Claudius is idealized. In addition, the same approach is used for his statue, which depicts him as Jupiter, almost naked with a robe draped around his hips and thrown over his arm. However, the idealized body forms in the spirit of the cult statue are given individual features, and one sees the impassioned features of an unattractive man.
In conclusion, Roman art completed a great period of ancient artistic culture. Portraits created by Roman craftsmen in the first to fourth centuries reflected the aesthetic tastes and ideals of the Romans and their worldview. The role of the Roman portrait in world art history is defined by its deep truth, and statement of realism in the portrayal of the person. All the further development of portrait sculpture is largely based on the creative legacy of Roman masters.