We all know a great piece of art when we see one but do we really know whose fingerprints were left on some of the greatest artwork of the Roman Empire? Some of our ancestors have more influence in the arts than others. Augustus Caesar is one commissioner of art who made a lasting impression. As history reveals the story of Augustus Caesar, the assassination of his great-uncle, Julius Caesar, and the civil wars that broke out during that time, it also encapsulates the transformations in art from the end of the Roman Republic to the Rise of the Roman Empire under Augustus Caesar.
As Augustus entered office, he was immersed in the style of Hellenistic Art. Examination of this time period offers insight into the evolution of art and why Augustus changed the stylistic tendencies of Roman art to create a sense of security for the Roman people. Augustus shared a connection with the Roman people as he mirrored their desire for representations of social and political events in much of the Roman artwork.
There was strong Greek influence portrayed throughout these works using bas-relief images, which were depictions with raised elements to give the art more dimension and realism. The appreciation Augustus had for Hellenistic art became relevant to the generations that followed as he strengthened his standing with his people. This art was known for its idealized qualities and depicted many peaceful, harmonious, and picturesque settings such as those presented in Perseus sets Andromeda Free and Endymion asleep. See figures 1 and 2. As Elsner Jas described in his book, Art and Rhetoric in Roman Culture, Augustan art and architecture established the impression of a stable and monumental empire (40). Sculptures were created with vast detail and texture to reflect the emotions and qualities of their circumstances. Pre-Augustan sculptures of portraits were considered to be of older and wiser imagery with more intense expressions. Under Augustus, much of Rome and its art was rebuilt in marble with elaborate detail and with great elegance that enhanced the youthful aspects of the individual. Augustus preferred his own image to be preserved in a youthful state. Augustus was able to solidify and preserve his presence as the restorer of Rome and respectful ruler to his people using art as his conduit. He created conditions whereby, his legacy lives on in Roman artwork. Compare figures 3 and 4 which depict pre-Augustan and post-Augustan sculptures. Rome under Augustus enjoyed stability and strength, allowing for centuries of continued peace after his reign, which was commonly referred to as the golden age of the Pax Romana. It was a time of peak prosperity and happiness. This undoubtedly elevated the moods and spirits of the Romans. Contributing to this were the visuals of elaborate pieces of art and architecture. Augustus had indeed created a revolution in politics as well as art. The era of the Roman Empire was heavily influenced by Augustus. According to A.J.S. Spawforth in his book, Greece and the Augustan Cultural Revolution, the art sought applause not only for the ruler, but more broadly for the benefits of Roman rule (105). Though Augustus did not adopt a dictatorship position as those who preceded him, he made his rule known throughout the city by embellishing it with ornate decorations, sculptures and art thereby, creating status and reference to his time in power. According to an article by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Augustus also ensured that his image was promoted throughout his empire by means of statues and coins (2014). Although he chose to showcase his presence through inanimate objects, he chose objects that would be well distributed throughout the city and would be continuously seen throughout his reign and beyond. By representing himself on currency, he reminded his people daily of his stature and that he would remain a steady figure giving them reassurance in the power of Rome. Although some may say that Augustus created this change in popular art mainly for his own self-promotion and posterity, it is more often the case that he changed the style of art in order to create a sense of security at that time. In the words of D.E. Strong in his book, Roman Art, Augustus was a man close to aspirations of a new government (15). Augustus strived to be a good leader for his people without abusing power. He encouraged the progression of art by promoting the advancement of innovative techniques and supplies in the art world at that time. One would have to accept that his people would not have called for improvements during a time of prosperity. In fact, it would seem plausible that their desire might be to maintain the status quo. Therefore, it would have to be argued that they did not desire to make Rome better but rather reconstruct using old and dated materials. Augustus, however, did not promote the methods of the past or the classical art that preceded him, but rather a future of improvements in every aspect of Rome within his reach. He relished in the successes of his reign and it showed in a wide array of his reconstruction of Roman architecture and art. Art and sculptures were more robust, detailed and made of marble. Utilizing materials of wealth such as marble, metals, and gems, coupled with his passion for intricate art, Augustus commissioned artists to create unique artwork showcasing the love for his city. He not only rebuilt Rome, but did so with magnificent beauty and magnitude. By doing this, he also built security and confidence in the future of Rome. The futuristic thinking of this ruler embraced the notion that the youth would have a great influence on continuing his legacy. I believe this was because their innocence projected a positive perspective to the world. Therefore, the youthful quality Augustus commissioned into art could have the effect of promoting an optimistic future. By appeal to the old, Augustus justified the new; by emphasizing continuity with the past, he encouraged the hope of development in the future’ as quoted by J.A. Crook in his book, Augustan Culture: An Interpretive Introduction (9). The material used in propagandist sculptures was paramount to these certain cultures. Before Augustus commissioned different art than Rome had known, Greeks had been fond of using bronze, while the Romans mostly used marble. The use of marble depicts the strength of power that characterizes the rule of Augustus. As Augustus restored, rebuilt, and reigned over peaceful and prosperous times in Rome, his stylistic tendencies of Roman sculptures and art included better quality of materials and realism. Augustus promoted improvements and allowed for the utilization of innovative materials in architecture and art. The artwork successfully captured realistic interpretations of ordinary and extraordinary events and people throughout Rome in prolific and extravagant grandeur. Rome was able to enjoy lavish art work that depicted their flourishing times. According to Crook, Genuine leadership goes beyond the accumulation of power (4 Augustan Culture). This allowed Rome to solidify their footprint in the art world with impressionable works of art and sculptures that adorn the city. This art created a magnificent presence and contributed to the beauty of Rome as a testament to the rule of one of Rome’s great leaders of his people. Sculptures and art from the Augustan Era are still in every part of Rome and are on vivid display for all to see and admire. Augustus was a great ruler in Rome during his time and a very influential one still today. He created a harmonious reign promoting peace, stability and hope for his people. His dynamic style was evidenced in the world of art with an eye for quality. He used the youth as inspiration and the aesthetic beauty of raw materials to create timeless masterpieces. The following quote is attributed to Augustus by historians Suetonius and Cassius Dio in Kathleen Lamp’s book, A City of Marble: The Rhetoric of Augustan Rome, I found Rome built of brick and I leave it to you in marble (Introduction). In the same book by Lamp, Dio reevaluates this statement and explains that Augustus was not referring literally to the state of the buildings, but rather to the strength of the Empire’ (Intro). In both ways, Augustus connected his stature to the people of Rome to support and cherish the most powerful city of its time.BibliographyArticlesAugustus (63 BC – AD 14), BBC, 2014, (accessed April 7, 2019).BooksCrook, J. A. “K. Galinsky, Augustan Culture: An Interpretive Introduction. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996. Pp. Xi 474, 8 Pls, 182 Illus. ISBN 0-691-04435- X. Ј26.00/US$39.50.” Journal of Roman Studies 87 (1997): 287-88. Print.Elsner, Ja›, and Michel Meyer, eds. Art and Rhetoric in Roman Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2014. Print.Lamp, Kathleen S. A City of Marble: The Rhetoric of Augustan Rome. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 2013.Spawforth, A. J. S. Greece and the Augustan Cultural Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. Print. Greek Culture in the Roman World.Strong, D. E. and Toynbee, J. M. C. and Ling, Roger. Roman art / Donald Strong; prepared for press by J.M.C. Toynbee Penguin Books Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England; New York, N.Y., U.S.A 1988PicturesEndymion Asleep. Rome: Early C2 CE. Carrara marble. Museum of Capitoline of Rome, (accessed April 10, 2019).Perseus rescuing Andromeda. Rome: 2nd Century A.D. Marble relief. Museum of Capitoline of Rome. (Photo: Koppermann, DAI, 65.1703.) (accessed April 10, 2019)A bust of a Roman Patrician. Otricoli: c75-50 BCE. Marble. Museo Torlonia, Rome Republican period, of Augustus as General. Primaporta, Rome, Italy. c20 B.C., Vatican Museum, Rome, Augustan Period,