Robin Urton: dimensional paintings on glass


The Roman Empire

Reconstruction Model of Ancient Rome



Rome is located on the Western shore of Italy (a peninsula which is shaped like a lady's spike-heeled boot), dividing the Adriatic Sea to the east and the Mediterranean to the southwest. Located on the banks of the Tiber River, the city had excellent access to the sea and trade routes. The Mediterranean waters also were effective in holding the sun's rays during all seasons of the year, and releasing its warmth to the surrounding lands each winter. The location had great potential for the city destined to become the seat of the world empire.

The ocean provided easy access to surrounding lands, which would become Rome's colonies. Roman armies conquered ancient Greece, then travelled to the far reaches of Europe, North Africa, and the Asia Minor, leaving Roman colonies in its wake. At the height of the Roman Empire, "all roads lead to Rome" was a true statement, because they built the roads. One can still find evidence of Roman architecture and engineering from England to Egypt.


Roman Achievements in Architecture, Engineering, and City Planning

Pont du Gard

The Pont du Gard in Nimes, France

Circus Maximus

Circus Maximus, Reconstruction Model

For Rome to be successful in maintaining its huge empire, it had to construct roads that stretched for hundreds of miles. Some of these had the double function of serving as an aquaduct, carrying water from mountain springs to the lower cities. The invention of the arch allowed them to span larger areas with fewer beams. The arch was also more architecturally sound than post and beam construction (the Pont du Gard, for example, has stood for 2000 years). Indoor plumbing, public fountains and baths were enjoyed by citizens. Streets were laid out according to a rational, geometric pattern.

The Circus Maximus was constructed for huge crowds to watch the Olympic games and chariot races. Triumphal arches were erected to comemmorate victory in battles, and were covered with elaborate stone carvings and statuary.

Triumphal Arch

Triumphal Arch of Constantine, Rome


The Colosseum

Colosseum Floor


The Colosseum is perhaps the most famous of Roman architectural ruins. Its immense size, covering six acres and accommodating 50,000 spectators, is enough reason for its fame. What it was used for is perhaps even more note-worthy, as we know that this is where bloody fights between exotic animals and gladiators occured. A complex system of pipes drained the blood-bathed stadium floor.. The picture at right shows the underground tunnels beneath the floor of the stadium. The wild animals were contained here until the big event. There were 80 doorways allowing the huge crowds quick entrance and exit from the stadium. The columns which are spaced between each of the arches imitate progression of Greek orders: the Doric columns are on the first floor, the Ionic on the second, and the Corinthian on the third. The uppermost level of the structure once held pillars which held a giant canopy to shield the spectators from the sun. Lower class citizens sat close to the canopy, where it was hottest. Some more facts about the Colosseum.

The Pantheon



The Pantheon was the first temple to combine concrete construction with the decorative use of Greek classical orders. The building is an immense cylinder topped with a dome. The structure is 142 feet high and 140 feet across, making an almost hemispherical interior. There is a 29 foot wide oculus (eye) at the top, allowing ventillation and light to enter. A dome of this size would not have been possible without the Roman invention of concrete.




The cross-section shows how the walls of the dome became thinner as they reached the oculus, preventing collapse from the weight. The invention of coffers (recessed blocks) also achieved this aim. Seven niches surrounding the base of the dome originally held statues of their gods. The Pantheon is now a Christian church called Santa Maria della Rotonda. The pagan statues were removed and replaced with Christian saints, and the half-dome above the altar is covered with Christian crosses.



Roman Mosaics

Roman mosaic
detail from a banquet

Diana, the huntress-goddess


A mosaic is created by assembling small pieces of tile, glass, or stone into a mortar background, forming a pattern or picture. The Romans followed the Greek tradition in creating this form of art, probably beginning in the 3rd or 4th century. Theirs consisted of cut stones, and were usually used for floors. Subjects included depictions of their gods, legendary heroes of Greek and Roman literature, depictions of daily life, and images of nature.

More Ancient Mosaics


Ullyses, listening to the sirens

The Victory of Neptune


The Recovery of an Ancient City: Pompeii

Aerial of Pompeii's Forum

Pompeii became a Roman city in 80 B.C.E. It was buried under volcanic ashes in 79 C.E., and lay undisturbed until 1748, when it was discovered by accident. Some of the most important archeological discoveries are the many painted frescos which were in the residences of some of the wealthier homes. They give us a clue to the quality of painting that may have once existed throughout the Roman Empire.

Below is one section of 4 wall-friezes that surrounded a living-room in Pompeii. They are believed to depict the ceremonies of the Dionysiac Mystery cults (Dionyses was the Greek god of Wine and Ecstacy, which continued to be worshipped by some Romans, who renamed the god Bachus). The largest painting to survive from antiquity, it was preserved by the volcanic ashes that filled the room - preventing weather from eroding its brilliant colors. (The bright red background, so often used in their murals, is known by many artists and designers as "Pompeian Red")

Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii c. 50 B.C.E.



Roman Sculpture

Nereid Riding a Sea Serpent

Neptune, God of the Seas

Discus Thrower

Though most Roman sculptures strove for complete realism, images of gods and goddesses were often idealized. Also, they made great efforts to preserve the legacy of the Ancient Greeks by creating perfect copies of many of their broken sculptures. The Discus Thrower is an example of Greek Classical idealism, which they preserved. For the most part, however, you can trust Roman sculpture to be a faithful likeness of the person portrayed. This is especially true of bust-portraits of Rome's prominent citizens and politicians (many of whom were not at all handsome). Any Roman citizen who could afford it might have their likeness carved in marble, and multiple carvings were created of all of the Emperors.

Flavian Woman
1st century C.E.

Roman Couple

Emperor Hadrian


Emperor Constantine, 315 C.E.

Constantine Fragments

The colossal portrait of Constantine shows the emperor's commanding presence. The head alone is 8 feet tall, and only fragments of other portions of his body remain (the whole body, seated on a throne, was once over 30 feet tall, partly constructed of brick and wood). His reign was towards the end of the Empire, as Rome was decreasing its hold on its colonies and was subject to continual invasions. He was the first Roman Emperor to accept Christianity, even establishing Christian churches outside of the capital of Rome. When he moved the capital to Byzantium, he called the new city "Constantinople". This split the power of the empire in two, hastening the end of the empire.

The western portion (Rome and its surroundings) was repeatedly sacked by Germanic tribes (the Visigoths in 376, the Vandals in 408, the Goths in 410, and Attila the Great led the Huns in its final defeat in 450). The eastern portion of Constantinople maintained its power, and began the new age of Christianity, beginning with a period known as "Byzantine".


Next: Medieval Art