Art during the era of Augustus and his successors (44 BCE-64 AD). Part IV. Conclusion

Mosaicists, decorators, gem engravers and silversmiths all coming from Alexandria and Pergamon quickly moved to Rome, by then the new capital of the world.  Among the many objects found in Pompeii excels a brazier supported by three fauns who extend their hands forward in an instinctive gesture to test the degree of heat of a hot element.

Brazier or tripod for sacrifice with its legs in the form of young fauns, bronze, 1st century AD. (Naples National Archaeological Museum).

Pliny mentioned an artisan called Dioscorides who worked in Rome and who also engraved some beautiful cameos*.  He is credited with the Great Cameo of France representing the glorification of Germanicus: Tiberius and Livia, sitting among a group of other members of their family, welcome the noble figure of the glorious Roman general who’s guided by the Victory, at the bottom in a lower register are the defeated barbarians.

The Augustan Roman art was a product of a society in which the Epicurean philosophy prevailed.  According to Epicurus, the promoter element of the universe was water, that is why the semi-religious cult of Venus was accepted because she was a goddess who was born from the ocean waters.  This also explains that in the Augustan art predominated, especially in decoration, plants with thick or succulent leaves (acanthus, banana leaves) and/or aquatic plants (aquatic ivy).  When the philosophical ideas of the Stoics were imposed during the following Flavian and Antonine dynasties, the activating element was fire instead of water, so the plant decoration used included a profusion of grape vine leaves alluding to Dionysus and oak leaves because this was the tree dedicated to Jupiter.

The Great Cameo of France, a five-layered sardonyx cameo ca. 23 AD. (Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris).

There are countless attributes that referred to the cult of Venus in the Augustan art: tridents of Neptune, Tritons, Nereids, sea horses and dolphins.  In objects of private use, such as furniture and jewelry, is where the mystical allusions to the Epicurean faith appeared more intense, for example, some necklaces had locks formed by two dolphins.


*Cameo: A method of carving an object such as an engraved gem, item of jewellery or vessel made in this manner. It nearly always features a raised (positive)relief image.