Roman Sculpture



Roman sculpture began with the copying of Greek sculpture, but then evolved into a form of sculpture which more emphasised the individual. There are many surviving sculptures of Roman emperors Roman emperors had their statues publicly displayed and statues of Marcus Aurelius, Caesar, and Vespasian all exist today


Two types of Roman statues may be identified: the standing figure and mounted figure. The most famous examples of each are Augustus of Prima Porta and Equestrian Marcus Aurelius.


Roman Sculpture, with artists from across a huge empire and changing public tastes over centuries, is above all else, remarkable for its sheer variety and eclectic mix. The art form blended the idealised perfection of earlier Classical Greek sculpture with a greater aspiration for realism and absorbed artistic preferences and styles from the East to create images in stone and bronze which rank among the finest works from antiquity. Aside from their own unique contribution, Roman sculptors have also, with their popular copies of earlier Greek masterpieces, preserved for posterity invaluable works which would have otherwise been completely lost to world art.  

The Roman taste for Greek and Hellenistic sculpture meant that once the supply of original pieces had been exhausted sculptors had to make copies and these could be of varying quality depending on the sculptor’s skills. Sculpture also became more monumental with massive, larger-than-life statues of emperors, gods and heroes such as the huge bronze statues of Marcus Aurelius on horseback or the even bigger statue of Constantine I


As with the Greeks, the Romans loved to represent their gods in statues. When Roman emperors began to claim divinity then they too became the subject of often colossal and idealised statues, often with the subject portrayed with an arm raised to the masses and striking a suitably authoritative stance as in the Augustus of the Prima Porta. 

Sculpture on Roman buildings could be merely decorative or have a more political purpose, for example, on triumphal arches (which most often celebrated military victories) the architectural sculpture captured in detail key campaign events which reinforced the message that the emperor was a victorious and civilizing agent across the known world.


Funeral busts and stelae (tombstones) were one of the most common forms of sculpture in the Roman world. These sculptures could portray the deceased alone, with their partner, children and even slave

Roman sculpture, then, has provided us not only with a priceless record of earlier Greek masterpieces but it has also contributed great works in their own right. Unique contributions to the art form include the use of historical narratives and an unprecedented realism in portraits which could take the form of grandiose emperors dressed as gods or more humble depictions of lesser mortals which, with the rendering of particular physical features and emotional expressions, allow us to feel a little closer to a people that lived so long ago.


Roman Sculpture, Portraits were made just to the neck. Giving emphasis to the head. After that they continued with the bust. They were made of bronze or stone and polychrome. A majority of the artists were Greek. Portrayed characters are seldom private or public, showing gravity and serenity. Faces are energetic, strong and determined, even when public portraits present a certain idealization to underline the virtues of the subject. The most highly valued traits included a devotion to public service and military powers, and so Republican citizens sought to project these ideals through their representation in portraiture. Public officials commissioned portrait busts that reflected every wrinkle and imperfection of the skin, and heroic, full-length statues often composed of generic bodies onto which realistic, called "veristic” portrait heads were attached. The overall effect of this style gave Republican ideals physical form and presented an image that the sitter wanted to express.


Since Rome became an Empire sculpture suffered a transformation and so did portrait. Classical Greek idealism was more influential. Official portrait is idealized, trying to show the grandeur of the character, mainly divine, even without losing their own physical features or character expression. The prototype was established during August’s times. The emperor appeared as a god, his hair falling in an irregular way on his forehead, the face always shaved. With the Flavians and on realism appeared again, hair had more volume, they had beard and chiaroscuro effects were used. There are monumental portraits, with great variety:


Portrait busts showed serious-looking and determined Emperors; reliefs showed historical events, such as Roman legions winning battles, or formal ceremonies; equestrian statues showed Emperors in the saddle. Roman art was designed to promote the power and majesty of Rome. All the best sculptors working in Rome were Greek; second, the Roman aristocracy found numerous domestic uses for sculpture of varying kinds - few of them "serious"; third, the rise of Christianity stimulated demand for early Christian sculpture. Roman sculpture proper was serious and propagandist, most works created for domestic consumption or for use by Christians, were as decorative as Greek sculpture. Romans were noted more for their marble sculpture than their bronze sculpture, and produced a limited quantity of ivory carving - mostly for personal use. Also, terracotta reliefs became a common feature of Roman architecture. The most important type of sculpture produced in Ancient Rome was Roman Relief Sculpture, notably historical reliefs as exemplified by those on Trajan's Column.


The Three Graces

These young girls, linked in a dance-like pose, represent The Three Graces: Aglaia (Beauty), Euphrosyne (Mirth), and Thalia (Abundance). They bestow what is most pleasurable and beneficent in nature and society: fertility and growth, beauty in the arts, harmonious reciprocity between men. They enjoyed venerable cults in Greece and Asia Minor. In mythology, they play an attendant role, gracing festivals and organizing dances.

Romans liked to put copies of Greek sculptures in their gardens and homes as decorations and works of art.



The Romans initiated a policy of expansion that in 300 years made them the masters of the Mediterranean world. Impressed by the wealth, culture, and beauty of the Greek cities, victorious generals returned to Rome with booty that included works of art in all media. Soon, educated and wealthy Romans desired works of art that evoked Greek culture. To meet this demand, Greek and Roman artists created marble and bronze copies of the famous Greek statues. Molds taken from the original sculptures were used to make plaster casts that could be shipped to workshops anywhere in the Roman empire, where they were then replicated in marble or bronze.