The history of Roman painting is essentially wall paintings on plaster. Although ancient literary references inform us of Roman paintings on wood, ivory, and other materials, works that have survived are in the durable medium of fresco (definition is located later in the page). Many of the Roman paintings have perished and no longer exist. This is because much of the paintings were used for interior decorations, and those buildings and houses no longer exist. There are only a few true paintings left. Roman paintings were heavily influenced by Greece and the Greek style. For example, many famous Roman paintings, such as the Aldobrandini Wedding and Odyssey Landscapes ( Vatican ), are believed to be copies of Greek originals. Both of these Roman masterpieces are shown below. The first is of the Aldobrandi Wedding and the next one is of the Odyssey Landscapes.
Two major types of paintings from the Roman era exist in abundance: encaustic portraits, chiefly of Alexandrian origin and Pompeii paintings. Encaustic portraits refer to a painting medium in which the binder for the pigment is wax or wax and resin. The technique was briefly revived in the 19th century and is now used by a number of contemporary artists. Most surviving Pompeiian paintings date from the Intricate style period, which commenced about A.D. 50 and continued until the destruction of the city in A.D. 79 by the eruption of Vesuvius (Painting, 2005).
Roman paintings have not drastically changed in styles as in some other cultures. Ever since the first century B.C to the first century of this era, four distinct styles of Roman paintings can be seen. The first style originated in the early 2d century BC. It is an imitation of marble veneering, in which the painted decoration resembles slabs of colored marble. This style is called incrustation. The second style is called the architectonic, which began in the early 1st century BC. This style opened up the wall by providing an illusion of windows and porticos which looked outward onto imaginary scenes, usually framed by painted columns and architraves. Much of the architecture in these paintings used multipoint perspective. An example of the second style is the Villa at Boscoreale (Gunther, 1999). The third style is called ornamental and it dates from the Augustan period at the end of the first century BC. In this style, yellow paintings are created on dark background (contrast and vivid color emphasis was key). In addition, this style created a “picture gallery” effect. Usually a larger picture was in the center and several smaller pictures were around the sides. Architecture became attenuated and replaced the painted columns. The last period is a combination of all of the previous three styles and is known as a heterogeneous style. For example, in this style artists began to paint on walls again, and architecture paintings were more realistic (Roman Paintings, 2001).
Analyzing the Roman paintings according to the standards set by the current great artists, Roman paintings are excellent. Roman artists had an excellent grasp of one-point perspective. Furthermore, they mastered it to the point of painting fool-the-eye architectural features on the frescoed walls of some of their finer homes. Fresco is a painting technique in which pigments suspended in water are applied to a damp lime-plaster surface. The pigments dry to become part of the plaster wall or surface. This was a very common way to painting the Roman period. In addition, the Romans used a fast stroke similar to the impressionists. Roman artists specializing in fresco most likely traveled with copybooks that reproduced popular paintings, as well as decorative patterns (Lane, 1999).