Oh What a Relief it Is!: Greco-Roman Art at the Art Institute– Part Two


No matter how much time one spends at Pompeii or Herculaneum or the slope houses in Ephesus, one is always impressed with the artistic skill of those who decorated the walls and halls of ancient Roman villas, for example look at the stucco reliefs from one such house above. The artists tended to go for safe mythological motifs, notice the griffin in one of the reliefs above, which assumed everyone knew these stories from Greek mythology and Homer. It is rather like when parents today put up stickers on the wall of their child’s room from ‘Frozen’ or some other popular Disney tale. There are other kinds of reliefs as well, for example those carved in stone. One of the most moving of these is the relief of a fallen Greek warrior….

Another interesting feature of villas was the painting of walls to make it appear there was much more space in the villa than in fact existed, for example check out this portion of a villa wall…..

You can also learn a lot about a culture’s elite from examining the busts done or ordinary and famous people. For example, here is a bust of a young Greek girl. It is highly stylized, and this in part reflects the fact that women in this patriarchal culture were held to a higher standard of appearance and virtue than men. They were to appear beautiful and act in modest and moral ways. rell5rell6

Contrast that bust with the two following ones, first of Sophocles the great playwright, and Marcus Aurelius the 2nd century Stoic Emperor…. these gents would not win a beauty contest….

Perhaps most revealing of all is funerary art when it comes to an ancient culture’s values. Here is a Roman funerary urn (noting the inscription that comes with it about the Roman use of ossuaries or bone boxes, or cremation boxes).

This may be compared to the much later Byzantine Christian ossuary…

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