Forum Romanum

By Cole, Karl | School Arts, May 2001 | Go to article overview

Forum Romanum


Cole, Karl, School Arts


Ara Pacis Augustae 13-9 BC

Augustus, nephew of Julius Caesar, became emperor in 27 BC. He put an end to the constant civil wars that had plagued Roman territory for several decades, and ushered in a period of unbroken peace during his reign (until 14 AD). Roman art was already heavily dependent on Greek models since Rome "annexed" Greece in 146 Be. Under Augustus, Hellenistic classicism became the standard for art throughout the empire. This was partly influenced by the Roman love of everything Greek, and the pompous belief that Rome was carrying on the glories of Greek classical civilization. The sculptors who worked under Augustus consciously strove in their art to prove the virtue of his reign, which he had forced on the Roman Republic after the assassination of his uncle.

The Ara Pacis was conceived of as somewhat of a propaganda piece meant to depict the splendor of life under the reign of Augustus. It exalted the peace that he had initiated in the form of a contemplative procession of Roman elite, including the emperor and his family. On the opposite side of this scene, reinforcing the Roman belief in the primacy of their Hellenistically influenced culture, is a depiction of Aeneas, the Trojan Greek who supposedly founded Rome.

Stylistically, the Ara Pacis friezes represent the period of greatest influence of Greek sculpture on Roman art. The graceful, realistic carving of the drapery, the procession-like arrangement of the figures, and the hierarchic idealization of the figures all point to Hellenistic origins.

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