Comparing Roman & Greek Temples & Sculpture

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  • 0:02 Greece vs. Rome
  • 0:44 Sculptures and Temples…
  • 2:56 Sculptures and Temples…
  • 5:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will compare the artistic programs of two great European civilizations: ancient Greece and ancient Rome. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Ancient Greece vs. Ancient Rome

open stage

Hello, and welcome to Art Rumble 2000 - the only 6-minute virtual art competition with no prizes! We've got a great match-up today: two of the greatest powers of the ancient world who lived only an Adriatic apart and each claim partial ownership of Western cultural heritage. In this corner, the challenger. Ancient Rome was a mighty civilization which at various points consisted of a kingdom, a republic, and an empire from about 753 BC-476 AD. In the other corner is Europe's oldest major civilization, ancient Greece, which thrived from roughly 900 BC to 30 BC. Civilizations ready? Let the art begin!

Sculptures and Temples of Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece is going to start off this competition by developing the first major sculptural program in Europe. Coming first can be a risky move, but the reward is establishing the basis of all Western art. The Greeks created highly realistic, life-sized statues out of marble, but even more impressively, out of bronze. By using the Lost-Wax technique to cast statues in smaller, hollow pieces that were later assembled, the Greeks created the first life-size bronze statues in the world. But that isn't the extent of their innovation. Look at this statue. See the weight shift onto one leg? That's called the contrapposto stance, and it is the basis of creating figures with realistic balance and movement.

An example of contrapposto
Legs of Greek sculpture

Let's check in with team-leader, Polykleitos. Polykleitos is creating an idealized figure - realistic but adhering to perfect ratios, determined mathematically. The use of perfect proportions creates very realistic figures, but also an idealized human, showing Greek appreciations with the beauty of the human form, as well as their use of ideal subjects like heroes and gods. Although the entire team is producing great work, it looks like most of the greatest innovations are coming out of the Classical era.

Let's move on over to ancient Greece's architecture team, hard at work developing massive stone temples. Greek temples are found in one of three styles. They are, from oldest to youngest, Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian Orders. Each is defined by a type of column and superstructure, or roof. Most Greek temples are supported by rows and rows of these columns, creating a large front patio and an enclosed sanctuary. As in sculpture, temples are designed according to precise mathematical ratios to create a sense of rational harmony and balance. These temples honor the Greek gods, and oh! Look at this! The Greek temple team has begun to fill their temples with artwork.

An example of a Greek relief
Example of Greek relief

Nice double-play by Greek sculpture and temple teams. Greek temples are covered in reliefs and statues, depicting scenes from mythology and history. This temple here is the Parthenon, a giant temple to Athena built in the 5th century BC, containing some of finest examples of Greek architecture and sculpture in the world. An excellent performance by ancient Greece.

The Parthenon

Sculptures and Temples of Ancient Rome

Well, ancient Rome is going to have a tough time beating that! There's the bell, and ancient Roman sculptors waste no time creating their own body of work. That's quite a lot of sculpture being produced by the Romans, most of it in marble. What's this? A judge is heading over to see if the Romans are simply copying the works of the Greeks. And the judge says no - although Roman artists heavily relied on Greek ideas about sculpture and made several copies, it was a way to demonstrate an intellectual familiarity with Classical Greek culture.

And now we're beginning to see much more Roman-style work. Three things are standing out. Over here we see the Romans carving busts, portraits of people from the neck up that are realistic and highly emotional portrayals of real people.

Roman bust

Next to that we see Roman reliefs, which depict intricate narratives of actual historical events, a twist on the Greek focus on mythology.

A Roman relief
Roman relief

And, look at this! Yes, it's the Roman equestrian statue, a portrait of an emperor or general on horseback. Now, the Roman team was not the first to carve an image on someone on a horse, but this iteration of that theme, with the personal, emotional posing of the rider, is going to become the standard for the rest of Western history.

A bronze equestrian statue
Bronze equestrian statue

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