As you walk around major cities in the Western Hemisphere, you will find yourself surrounded by architecture and sculpture influenced by the artistic achievements of Classical Antiquity. The art of ancient Greece and Rome have left an indelible mark on the art world and continue to be highly regarded by art lovers and historians today. Although both styles of art share certain similarities, there are also notable differences that distinguish them from one another.

At first glance, the white marble sculptures of both styles may appear similar, but with some background knowledge, the differences between the two can be easily recognized. By examining the key elements of each style, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the unique artistic achievements of ancient Greece and Rome.

Brief History of Greek and Roman Art

the last supper

The history of ancient Greek art is filled with beautiful sculptures, grandiose architecture, and vivid paintings, such as Greek Mythology paintings.It  can be divided into four periods. The first was the so-called Geometric Period (1050-700 B.C.). The name of this period already hints at what it was all about: geometry, and it was named after the patterns on the newly emerging pottery and vase painting, such as geometric patterns such as triangular shapes and zigzags. 

In the following Archaic Period (700-490 B.C), the ancient Greeks were hugely influenced by the art of the ancient Egyptians, with whom they had close trading connections. A characteristic stylistic device of archaic Greek sculpture of youths is their closed body position, which is very similar to Egyptian sculptures that were created at that time.

In this period, literary forms, like Homer's epics and Hesiod's ''Theogony'' were formed. Poetry, tragedy, prose, and the scientific-rational thinking of the pre-Socratics developed. In architecture, the direction goes again to the monumental.

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During the Classical Period (490-320 B.C.), considered the Golden Age of Ancient Greece, Athens was the center of all artistic developments. Historically, this period is characterized by the Peloponnesian War and the birth of Athenian democracy. Sacred art has become increasingly important in architecture - enormous temple buildings are built. In sculpture, the movement and inner unity of the composition is expressed through complex sculptures of humans in motion, such as throwing a discus or bearing a spear.

Hellenism (320-1st century B.C.) developed under the rule of Alexander the Great, who had conquered vast areas of the known world and established an enormous Greek Empire. Art created in this period represents a fusion of Greek and Middle Eastern cultures. Hellenistic artists were looking for a high degree of naturalism to represent the human body in even more complex compositions than in the Classical Period. One of the most famous works of this era is the Laocoon group. This 1.84 m high marble sculpture shows the dramatic moment when Laocoon, united with his sons, is fighting a hopeless fight against two snakes. According to Greek myth, Laocoon was a Trojan priest who warned the Trojans not to bring the wooden horse into their city. The gods, however, had already decided that all Trojans had to die and sent the snakes to kill Laocoon as a punishment.

The artistic achievements of the Greeks highly influenced ancient Roman art. The Romans adopted many aspects of their cultural life and art and reappropriated them for their purposes. Ancient Roman art is usually described as the ancient art of Italy and the extra-Italian provinces of the Roman Empire. It begins in the 5th century B.C. with the domination of Rome over the Etruscans. It ends with the empire's disintegration by the invasions of the Germanic tribes in the 5th century A.D. The end of Roman art cannot be precisely delimited. Usually, the art after Emperor Constantine  (306-324 AD) is called Late Antiquity and includes early Christian art.

Similarities between Greek and Roman art

The ancient Greek and Roman cultures were both based in the area of the Mediterranean Sea, which probably influenced their artists' interests and architectural endeavors. They needed art for similar purposes, such as decorative, representative, and religious purposes.

Characteristics of Greek and Roman Art

Ancient Greek and Roman art are renowned for their unique characteristics and techniques that distinguish them from other art styles. Greek art is known for its emphasis on the idealization of the human body, with artists striving to achieve perfect proportions through techniques such as "contrapposto." This resulted in a harmonious balance in the standing human body's artistic representation. In contrast, Roman art focused on capturing the individual characteristics of people, portraying flaws and quirks with realism and honesty.

Greek sculptures and statues were designed to stand without external support, while Roman statues required additional support to maintain an upright position. As a result, Roman artists often used posts or other forms of external support to stabilize their sculptures. For those seeking to own timeless works of art inspired by these classical styles, Roman Oil Painting Reproductions offer an excellent option. These reproductions are high-quality replicas of famous Roman oil paintings, providing an opportunity to bring the beauty and grace of ancient Roman art into any is a reliable source for Roman oil painting reproductions, featuring a wide selection of renowned works of art, including The Roman Bath by Emmanuel Oberhausen and others.

Greek and Roman Culture and their approach to art

A roman art lover

Even though Greek and Roman art are closely linked, they have a different approach to creation, which might be why, over time, the Romans developed their distinct style. For the ancient Greeks, art was to be a manifestation of the perfection of the human body and mind. Greek artists were hunting for an ideal form of beauty and physical strength.

Roman artists, however, had a more practical approach to art, as their works were mainly used for decoration and capturing how things looked.

Difference between Greek and Roman paintings

It is challenging to compare Greek and Roman paintings as many more painted works from Ancient Rome have come down to us than from Greek antiquity.

If we want to look at Greek painting, we have to turn to vases that have survived all periods of Greek art. Vases were elaborately painted with stories from Greek mythology, decorative patterns, sports scenes, animals, or mythological creatures.

Works of wall and panel painting are accessible to today's viewers almost only in Roman copies. Even though today we are used to looking at sterile white marble sculptures, the world of the Greeks was colorful and rich in images.

From Roman times, almost exclusively wall paintings have come down to us. In this respect, most works of art can still be found today in the place they were once created and where they are preserved under often difficult conditions. Roman painters focussed on colorful landscape murals. Many of those are still intact and can be visited in Pompeji or the Nero'sNero's Domus Aurea in Rome. They usually depict architectural themes and a play with spacial dimensions. Other important examples of Roman painting are decorations from tombs and private houses, temples, and sanctuaries throughout the empire.

Less well documented is portrait painting. It can best be traced back based on wooden panels found in Egypt. The painting technique used is called encaustic (= wax painting, from the Greek word enkauston or enkaio = "exposed to fire"). Color pigments were applied to the wooden panels with hot wax. This period is particularly known as the imperial portrait of Lucius Septimus Severus with his wife and two sons.

Another way of decorating, usually used in palaces, was intricate mosaics. The technique of mosaic is one of the oldest in the world. The basis of this technique is breaking stones into small cubes and inserting them into a layer of mortar that is still soft. One stunning example is the ''Alexander mosaic," which consists of more than four million small stones, which are about four square millimeters in size. The entire mosaic measures 5.2 by 2.7 meters. Today, about five to six artists would have to work for a year to create this work of art.

Remarkable Greek and Roman artists

 Temple of Athena Parthenos

The Greek sculptor Polyklet (ancient Greek for "the much-famed"") was born around 480 BC and was one of the most important Greek sculptors of ancient Greece. His main creative period covered the years from about 460 B.C. to 420 B.C., during which he created numerous bronze statues that were praised for centuries after his death. Unfortunately, no originals of his work have survived.

The Athenian artist Phidias is one of the most important sculptors of Greek antiquity. The peak of his work falls in the period 460-430 BC. His two main works are the temple statue Athena Parthenos in the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens and his statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World and was located in the Greek city of Olympia. PHIDIAS first erected a 12 m high framework of iron, wood, and plaster, which roughly corresponded to the intended size of the statue. Like the "Athena Parthenos," the Athenian sculptor also proceeded with his sculpture of Zeus according to the so-called chryselephantine technique and coated the unclothed body parts of the cult image, such as the face, arms, hands, and feet, with modeled ivory.

The parts of the wooden sculpture designed as clothing were covered with gold sheets, and the hair was designed from thin gold wire. The total weight of the gold plating was about 200 kilograms. It is assumed that Phidias used fist-sized gemstones for the eyes of the statue.

Spurius Radius was a Roman painter of the Augustan period. He is mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History and is said to have invented landscape painting. He painted mainly walls. Pliny explicitly mentions country houses, porticos, landscape gardens, forests, hills, fish ponds, canals, rivers, and coast as subjects of his paintings, and these paintings were populated with people. His subjects also included villas and seaside towns. Exactly such scenes are known from Pompeii and the other Vesuvian cities.


Even though they look almost similar at first glance, Greek and Roman art differences are plenty. For example, the Greeks sought to find ideal beauty in their works of art, whereas the Romans were more interested in realism. 

Whether you're a fan of Greek or Roman art, or simply want to appreciate the differences between them, exploring the art of both civilizations is a fascinating journey through time

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