Politics and Propaganda in Roman Art During the Early Imperial Period

Roman art during the Early Imperial Period was intertwined with politics and as well as propaganda. Throughout the Roman Empire, many portraits of emperors and empresses could be found to showcase their class and the power they held. Two highly important monuments that invoked the power of imagery and ideology came from the portraits of Augustus, the first emperor of the Roman Empire, specifically Augustus of Prima Porta and Ara Pacis Augustae in Rome.

Augustus of Prima Porta, also known as Portrait as a General, gets its name from the town in Italy of where this marble sculpture was found.

We see him dressed gallantly as an orator and general for the way he seems to point and give direction, but it also symbolizes the beginning of Pax Romana. For 200 years under the rule of Caesar Augustus did he try to provide peace and stability for the people of the Roman Empire. He wanted an idealized empire, one that showcased his political and diplomatic achievements of establishing and conquering its neighboring countries and of his obsession with seizing even more land.

Aside from expanding the land he ruled over, he developed a taxation system, a network of roads, an army and further created positions as police officers and firefighters. He dedicated most of his time to keeping order by increasing agriculture and defense. Viewers can see this high authority as he stands in contrapposta and the accuracy of his anatomical form portraying the idealization of how a standard Greek athlete should be depicted.

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Cupid riding a dolphin by Caesar’s right leg is to also show the great victory over Antony and Cleopatra and this particular part also showed the importance that he was descended from the gods through Venus.

The Early Imperial Period is best represented through the chest armor Augustus bears. In the middle contains a Roman and a Parthian figure. On the left a Parthian returns military standards to Rome. At the top we have the sun and sky god to personify the prosperity and happiness brought to its entire people. At the bottom is Tellus, the earth goddess, who symbolizes fertility as she carries two babies. The Augustus of Prima Porta is one of the ways that the ancients used art for propagandistic purposes.

Ara Pacis Augustae is another artwork that was built for the establishment of peace brought to the Roman Empire. Four panels on the east and west ends of the building structure depict a relief of Aeneas, son of Venus, making a sacrifice. Similar to Augustus of Prima Porta is Tellus (Mother Earth/ Pax) seated with Romulus and Remus on her laps with surrounding animals, Earth, sky and water. Imperial families with children are included for Augustus was concerned about the birth rate among nobility. Whereas children were never included in monuments before, this supported the series of laws designed to promote having children.

Augustus of Prima Porta and Ara Pacis is not just a statue simply of a portrait of the emperor and altarpiece. It expresses Augustus’ connection to the past, his role as a military victor, his connection to the gods, and his role as the bringer of the Roman Peace and Ara Pacis was built to remind Romans of it’s achievements and emphasize the piety and peace within the empire.

Art during the Transitional Period and Hellenistic paved the way for Greek art as time went by. The transition from Archaic to Classical style was greatly represented by geometric patterns and a change towards order -balance, symmetry, harmony, and perfection. Subjects of sculpture and other art was depicted as what they considered perfect during the Transitional Period, but artists preferred to show the works as it was, rather than ought to be with it’s minute details of imperfection and action in the Hellenistic.

The Dying Warrior and Dying Gaul are two similar sculptures, but vary on the style, idealization and characterized by the differences influenced by their times they were built.

As the Hellenistic period came in, Greek culture became more diverse with influences coming from religious practices subjecting themselves to Greek gods and goddesses. The people focused on individual happiness, but the art they created during this time featured great skill in showing and understanding the anatomy and poses of how the body worked. With sculpture at its dominating period, it also led to more expressive works that was highly dramatized in showcasing emotions of a person. Dying Gaul from Pergamon is beautifully sculpted as we can almost emphasize with the agony and pain he is going through yet the Gaul warrior still tries to hide away and cover the fact that he is dieing as blood is being spilt from his wounded chest.

The instrument by his legs may also indicate that he is a trumpeter and will or already has signaled a message of the unfortunate. Dying Warrior from the Temple of Aphaia east pediment on the other hand is radically different in relation to the realistic approach Warrior has over Gaul. Dying Warrior knows death awaits him as he struggles to get up from also pulling out an arrow from his chest, however the turn of his body displaying it to the viewer is very unnatural in times of death. The archaic smile seen was also very popular to demonstrate the height of their life, in this case, of the warriors death mark.

In comparison to Dying Gaul the sculptor emphasizes the bulging of vein and chest to show a hint that this figure fought greatly for it’s people, but it also meant that the Pergamons were even better for defeating them. The posture also is spread out, but more natural and complex, and his reaction to his wound without the archaic smile as well as the twisting if his torso shows he is more concerned with the fact that he is about to die rather than trying to get up.

Forms of art developed at different speeds in different parts of the Greek world, and as in any age some artists worked in more innovative styles than others. The Greeks thus decided very early on that the human form was the most important subject for artistic endeavor as demonstrated by two sculptures, Dying Gaul and Dying Warrior. Both of these pieces begin to show the proportion and correctness of the human form as well as giving personality to the figures with similar hiding-of-the-face gestures. However because the Hellenistic Period came after the Transitional Period, there are definite contrasts in the detailing of the work and the shift towards a realistic approach.

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Politics and Propaganda in Roman Art During the Early Imperial Period. (2023, Mar 15). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/politics-and-propaganda-in-roman-art-during-the-early-imperial-period/

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