The Essential Question: To what extent have the contributions of ancient Rome influenced modern society?
The Romans added their own talents and tastes to what they learned from other cultures. For example, they imitated Greek sculpture, but Roman sculptors were particularly good at making lifelike busts and statues.
Romans were also great patrons, or sponsors, of art. Wealthy families decorated their homes with statues and colorful murals and mosaics. Roman artists were especially skilled in painting frescoes, scenes painted on the moist plaster of walls or ceilings with water-based paints. Roman frescoes often showed three-dimensional landscapes. Looking at one of these frescoes was almost like looking through the wall at a view outside. You’ve probably seen similar murals in restaurants, banks, and other modern public buildings.
The Romans also brought a sense of style and luxury to everyday objects. For example, they made highly decorative bottles of blown glass. A wine bottle might be shaped as a cluster of grapes. The Romans also developed the arts of gem cutting and metalworking. One popular art form was the cameo. A cameo is a carved decoration showing a portrait or a scene. The Romans wore cameos as jewelry and used them to decorate vases and other objects. You can find examples of all these art forms today.
About a thousand years after the fall of the empire, Roman art was rediscovered during the period called the Renaissance. During the Renaissance, great artists, such as Michelangelo, revived the Greco-Roman style in their paintings and sculptures.
A good example is the famous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Painted by Michelangelo in the 1500s, the ceiling shows scenes from the Bible. A Roman would feel right at home looking up at this amazing creation. Tourists still flock to Rome to see it.
Roman art has continued to influence painters and sculptors. Roman styles were especially popular during the early days of the United States. Americans imitated these styles to give their art dignity and nobility. Today, you can see a number of statues in Washington, D.C., that reflect a strong Roman influence.