Similar to the Greeks and the Hellenes, sculpture of the Republican period employed the use of marble to naturalistically represent the human. They were more realistic, like the Hellenes than the idealized naturalism that governed the Classical Greek period. The purpose and subject matter didn’t really change much from the Hellenes. The Republican period Roman sculpture glorified generals, prominent figures, ancestry, and the gods to an extent. (Usually when the gods were represented the intent was to show a lineage.) The patrons of the time were mostly noble men who wanted to prop up and parade their ancestry to glorify their genealogy for all their friends and slaves.Order now
The portraits of prominent Roman Republican figures seem to be literal reproductions of faces complete with scars, wrinkles and sometimes crooked or unsymmetrical noses or ears. Usually the person depicted was an older male who wasn’t smoothed out in the marble, so to speak, but were rather veristic (insanely realistic) with every facial surface, both flattering and non represented. A famous bust of this sort is the Head of a Roman patrician from Otricoli (ca. 75-50 BCE).
While the Romans favored naturalism for the heads, a bit of the idealism that governed Classical Greek art slipped into the representation of figures’ bodies. For the Portrait of a Roman general from the Sanctuary of Hercules (ca. 75-50 BCE), an old man’s head is propped atop the idealized younger body, complete with washboard abs. His drapery responds to gravity, similar to the Greeks and he is almost nude. This tactic seems to immortalize the character, preserving his image as powerful, youthful and strong physically while still being a wise wrinkled patrician. The references to Greek art make him seem more cosmopolitan (which as a general, indicated by his cuirass, he probably would have traveled the empire) yet covering his nudity makes him (or just his patron) modest. Continuing with the idea of preserving one’s romanticized image is the Portrait of Augustus as a general (early 1st century CE). Although thought to have been physically weak in real life, Augustus is depicted with killer biceps and amazing Pecs in idealized naturalism. His drapery responds to gravity and his breastplate is elaborate, complete with symbolism as well as an agenda.
The purpose of the sculpture is to demonstrate the military power of Augustus (after all, he is displayed as a general), display his lineage, introduce a golden age in Rome and return to the Greek Classical period in art. The sculpture is “based closely on Polykleitos’ Doryphoros” (quote from text book) with the shape and features of the head emulating that style. Augustus has cupid riding a dolphin at his feet to proclaim his divine ancestry and his family’s connection with Venus. With his right arm raised as if addressing the people, Augustus is attempting to be portrayed as an orator and a diplomat, and his breastplate has Atlas on it. Every part of this statue has an agenda as was the case for Roman Republican Art. As the patrons in almost all cases were men from distinguished families with an agenda of immortalizing their lineage, wisdom and other romanticized attribute, the faces were often displayed with every unflattering detail and bodies were youthful and idealized.