Like the art of any society, Roman funerary art symbolizes the way the person who created or commissioned the art viewed society and his/her place in that society. It also says a lot about the society itself. The art specifically commissioned by Romans to memorialize a person…
Other pieces include symbols of a particular god or goddess who may have been something like patron saints for Romans who were poly-deists. Just like funerals nowadays have evolved to include slide shows of the deceased’s life and symbols of his/her accomplishments, Roman funerary art served to honor the person who had passed from one life to the next, but it also represents what the Romans valued: wealth, status, family, and the favor of the gods.
Some of the most historically revealing funerary pieces represent the wealthy Romans, who had paintings, busts and statues of themselves and their families made in their likenesses. Some were placed at their tombs. Others were kept in the doma, the home, in a special place devoted just for the worship of deities and the commemoration of those who had passed. These paintings and sculptures looked amazingly like the person. At least they are less idealized than the commemorative pieces done for the lower ranked Romans. Often the pieces done for the wealthier Romans were commissioned at or near the time of death, or so it is presumed, because modern day methods of determining this say that the statues and busts resemble the person at the time of death more than in life. Consider the funerary portraiture from Roman Egypt. “Apparently these portraits were not made for display during the sitter’s life; comparison of the images with CAT scans of the remains inside these mummies makes it clear that the portraits represent the deceased at the age of death” (Daily Life in Ancient Rome p. 145). To get a lifelike replica, or something close to it, of a loved one just before that loved one passed away, cost a lot of money. So, if Romans had enough money and status, they could commission an artist to render that image which they could use to not only honor the loved one but also to remember what that person looked like much like how a photograph is used today.
Even Romans with less wealth and ...
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