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Roman Realism and Idealism

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The Roman Realism and Idealism

Ioannis E Amos

Art 101

4 February 2016

Amos                                                                                                          1

Analyzing Roman art, it becomes clear that it has evolved from Greek art. However, while Greeks had a tendency to idealize people in their artwork, Romans depicted people as they appeared. The purpose of this essay is to explore a work of sculpture that shows the Roman interest in recording events and people as they appeared, with realism and to compare that work with one that is idealized (qualities seen in Greek art).

By analyzing a relief from the Ara Pacis Augustae, I would like to discern how an artist has presented a factual image.

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The Ara Pacis Augustae is an altar in Rome dedicated to the Roman goddess of Peace, Pax. “The monument was commissioned by the Roman Senate to honor the return of Augustus to Rome after three years in Hispania and Gaul.”(p. 174) It reflects the Augustan vision of Roman civil religion. The altar consists of a walled rectangular enclosure surrounding an open-air altar, emulating Greek custom. Made entirely of marble panels carved with elaborate sculpture, the monument presented powerful propaganda, uniting portraiture and allegory, the private and the public, and religion and politics. The sculpture of the Ara Pacis is primarily symbolic, as its iconography has several levels of significance. Similar public Roman monuments traditionally address the potent political symbolism of their decorative programs. They are usually studied as a form of imperial propaganda. The Ara Pacis is seen to embody the deep-rooted ideological connections among cosmic sovereignty, military force, and fertility, connections which are attested in early Roman culture and more broadly in the substructure of Indo-European culture at large.  

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The relief on the south side depicts Augustus' imperial family—“men, women, and notably, children, who stand in the foreground as Augustus' hopes for dynastic succession.” (p.175) Whereas most of the adults maintain their focus on the ceremonial event, the imperial children are allowed to fidget, or reach up to find comfort in holding the hands or even tugging at the garments of the adults around them. The lifelike aura brought by such anecdotal details underlines the earthborn reality of the ideology embodied here. The purpose was to show that Rome was now subject to the imperial rule of the family of Augustus, and this stable system would bring continuing peace and prosperity since his successors have already been born.

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