The Art and Culture of Ancient Italy
and Rome: 700 B.C.-4th century A.D.
Ground floor, rooms 102,106,107,127-131
Rooms 130 and 131. Italian culture, 700-100 B.C., was the basis
upon which grew up the antique culture of the slave-owning society of
Rome. The exhibition in room 130 (the Hall of Twenty Columns) opens
with a section devoted to the art of Etruria, the most important region of
ancient Italy, which reached its apogee in the seventh and sixth centuries
B.C. The majority of the items in the Hermitage come from Etruscan
tombs. Here note especially the distinctly original pieces of Etruscan
ceramics-pitchers, amphoras, some fancy-shaped vessels, and enor-
mous pots for wine on tall stands. The smooth, clean form and brilliant
surface give these buccheri (articles made of smoked clay) the appearance
of being made of metal (table 1, cabinets 4 and 33). The Etruscans ex-
celled in the technique of processing metal, for example bronze, and this is
seen from two superb specimens, the head of a lion made in the sixth
century B.C. and a fifth century figure of a youth. The latter is a cinerary
urn, representing a reclining figure, in the conventional pose of a person
taking food at table. The muscles of the body are emphasized, and the
classically proportioned face wears an expression of calm. The head of
the lion is a fragment of one of those statues that were placed at the
entrance to the burial vaults of the nobility in order to drive away evil
spirits. The display also includes some bronzeware of the sixth and fifth
centuries B.C., notably statuettes, bronze mirrors, a bowl with a handle
in the form of a Triton, and a tripodal censer with an open-work frieze.
Etruscan terracotta is represented by some third and second century
cinerary urns in the form of small boxes, with a relief on the outer wall
and the reclining figure of the deceased on the lid. The exhibition also
possesses copious examples of the ceramics produced in the Greek towns
situated in Campagna, Lucania, Apulia and Calabria. Of wide renown is
the black-lacquered hydria adorned with a relief that has kept its gilt
and traces of colour. Found in the nineteenth century in the town of
Cumae, it has been called the Regina Vasorum on account of its beauty of
form and richness of decoration.
Towards the end of the third century B.C., one by one all the
provinces of Italy were brought under the subjection of Rome.
Room 127. Ancient Rome, 1000 B.C.-early 1st century A.D. The
distinctive feature of Roman art was the sculptural portrait. Roman sculp-
tors, whose names are unknown to us, portrayed in marble with great
realism their contemporaries: statesmen, philosophers, emperors, mili-
tary leaders, and distinguished Roman men and women. Assembled in
the Hermitage are around one hundred and twenty portraits (rooms
106,107,127,128). This superb collection makes it possible to trace the
development of Roman portraiture over a period of almost four hundred
years. Belonging to the late period of the republic (second and first
centuries B.C.), when portraiture became an independent genre, is the
bronze bust of a Roman (No. 229), two male marble portraits (Nos. 181,
183a), and the portrait of a woman (No. 138a). Each of them has a charac-
teristic simplicity and is a faithful and accurate reproduction of the appear-
ance of the model; in the past marble portraits were tinted, which gave
them even greater expressiveness. The statue of the emperor Octavian
Augustus seated on a throne (first century A.D.) is a typical example of
an official portrait from the time of the Empire. Found in Cumae, the
statue was made during the last years of Augustus' life; he is portrayed,
however, as a young man of athletic build (at the very time when the
Roman historian Suetonius was writing about the frailty of his body).
The individual features of the face are smoothed over, and the hair is
conveyed with great accuracy in the way that Roman sculptors loved.
The emperor is portrayed half-naked; in one hand he is holding a sceptre
and in the other the figure of the winged goddess Victory. It was in this
manner that the ancient Greeks depicted Zeus, and the Romans Jupiter,
their chief deity. Such deific portrayals of the emperor stood in Roman
temples, public buildings and on city squares.
At the time of the Empire relief sculpture occupied a prominent place
in the decoration of palaces, triumphal arches and columns. Displayed
here is a marble slab with a relief design composed of laurel garlands and
bucrania. The slab is a fragment of either an altar or a temple wall. In the
horizontal cases are some Roman intaglios and cameos of the first three
centuries A.D. with representations of the emperor and members of his
family, and also of mythological scenes.
Room. 129. Roman craft work and decorative art. By the window is
displayed a large third century mosaic made of smalt and coloured stone,
which in the past paved the floor of the thermae containing public baths
and all kinds of rooms used for the recreation of the body and the mind.
It illustrates the Greek myth of the youth Hylas, a companion of Jason,
who, while the Argo was at anchor, went to a spring for water and was
carried to the bottom by nymphs. Upon wall-brackets are fragments of
mosaics which also decorated floors of Roman buildings.
Representing the work of the Roman crafts are articles made of glass,
bronzes and ceramics, displayed in cabinets. In the first century B.C.
Roman craftsmen mastered the production of blown glass, and this
became a regular feature of everyday life (see the vessels for wine,
fragrant oil and rouge, and the cinerary urns). Coloured glass was
particularly highly valued. Roman ceramic vessels were made in red
lacquer technique, with a delicate relief design produced by means of
stamping. The red-lacquer vessels are notable for their perfection of
form, many of them made so as to resemble metal vessels-see the small
jug with a vine pattern.
Room 128. Roman art and everyday life. Individual exhibits intro-
duce to us the architectural decoration of Roman buildings, among them
fragments of murals from Pompeii, the marble capitals of columns, and an
ornamental relief. In the horizontal cases by the windows are household
articles, working tools and relics of writing. In the centre of the room is the
Kolyvan vase (see the description on page 32).
Room 107. Roman sculpture, late 1st-early 4th centuries A.D.
The enormous statue of Jupiter, 3.47 metres high (11 ft. 4.2 in.), is an
example of the monumental temple sculpture of the mid-first century:
it was found in the country villa of the emperor Domitian. The figure of
Jupiter is made of marble, and the clothing originally of gilded wood,
but during restoration work this was replaced by plaster. In the past,
gilt not only covered the surfaces of the raiments and other attributes
(the statuette of the goddess Victory and the staff), but also the locks
of hair and the beard.
Typical of Roman art is the portrayal of a Roman in a toga, the orator
with his arm outstretched addressing the people. One of the Hermitage
pieces (No. 173) is an example of this type of sculpture.
In Roman art the narrative relief was widespread, including the
depiction of military campaigns, battles, triumphal processions and
mythological tales. Of this type there are the reliefs on marble sarcophagi
dating from the second and third centuries A.D. One of them is decorated
with scenes from the Greek tragedy Hippolytus, another with stories of
the Trojan war, and the relief on the third sarcophagus reproduces the
ritual of a Roman wedding.
An important place in the exhibition is occupied by Roman portrai-
ture, the apogee of which came in the second and third centuries A.D.
Among the masterpieces of the Hermitage collection we should first of
all mention the portrait of an unknown Roman (No. 187), the portrait of
a youth (No. 213), the head of a Syrian woman (No. 205), the portraits
of the emperors Lucius Verus, Philip the Arabian, Balbinus and the
empress Salonina, and the portrait of a Roman woman (No. 223). The
Roman sculptors of the second and third centuries, not confining them-
selves to a realistic representation of man's external appearance, strove
to reveal his inner world. They were in fact the originators of the psycho-
In room 106 are displayed some large heads, fragments of colossal
statues, representing captive Dacians with their hands bound, which
adorned the forum of Trajan in Rome. The Roman Empire waged a
continuous war of conquest, and such triumphal monuments were sup-
posed to confirm in the minds of the people the invincibility of Roman