8 Top Notable Ancient Roman Painters

8 Top Notable Ancient Roman Painters

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When we're talking about ancient Roman, who won’t be infatuated by the great impact they had in today’s history? Spanning for over a thousand years with an empire so big and strong, they save their place as one of the ancient civilizations that affect many things in our life now. Their war strategy, the empire, politics, economics, culinary; if we should list the tales from them, it’s like a never-ending list about the ancient Roman and their greatness.

Indeed, ancient Roman is a sophisticated civilization during their time and had their position proven. This old society which is also the predecessor of Italy is well-known for their development and refinement in many aspects. Nothing escapes their eyes and their spirit to be taken and improved which can bring the modern world into an ‘awe’ moment when looking back to their legacy. They adopt the culture around them and put their own style there. The ancient Roman is the genius magician in world history.

They’re not only adopting from their neighborhood and enemy but also adapting and advancing in the process. No wonder why they are so powerful and influential, that strategy undoubtedly brings them much victory. However, that turned to be a bit blemish to their arts. Surely, the ancient Roman arts are mesmerizing, yet its originality is heavily influenced by the Greeks and Etruscan. It was even admitted by a Roman poet with his famous line: “Greece, the captive, took her savage victor captive” when he referred to ancient Roman arts. The term “Greco-Roman art” used between the specialists concerning Roman art was also another strong proof. It’s no kidding how great the Greeks influenced Romans in their arts. It’s because many Roman people took a strong liking for the Greek arts, it eventually became the distinctive style they favor. Thus, Roman arts were mostly similar to Greek.

Nonetheless, the Romans didn’t forget to add a dash of their style. Roman artists often famed of copying a quality of their neighbor art and mixing it with their witty or dark humor. Our Roman artists believed that there’s always room for improvement by first copying the Greek artworks, adapting it, and making it their own! As time goes, they have it right. Although at the beginning of time it can be challenging to distinguish Roman arts from Greek’s, the Roman eventually found their own style. The ancient Romans pay a fine amount of money for arts, paintings especially. You must hear a lot about it. Roman paintings are known as historical and artistic which is valuable for art enthusiasts. It’s all thank you to the ancient Roman painters and their journey in creating. Sadly, the ancient Roman painters are hardly identified and mentioned for their creativity. In fact, they’re mostly forgotten and if you realize, there are more unnamed paintings than ones with credit.

Isn’t that heartbreaking for them? Luckily, there are some Roman painters from the antiquity that get their acknowledgment. Thus, in favor to reminisce the ancient Roman painters, let’s know these eight notable ancient Roman painters who are recognized by the world.

Publius Aelius Fortunatus

The first we will meet is Publius Aelius Fortunatus, a Roman painter who got his recognition through Günther’s writing entitled ‘Adymos’ in 2017. Although he’s renowned as one of the ancient Roman painters around the 2nd century CE, he’s more famous as a figure of libertus or the title for those who tried to free the slave.

There’s so little to know about him, but we know that as a libertus he was, he did his painting with the same spirit.


In the next list, we’ll meet Arellius from the 1st century BC. His name was brought by Pliny the Elder, a man famously known for his intelligence and integrity. Unlike Publius whose history isn’t well documented, Arellius was fortunate enough to make his way as the painter of some ancient Roman celebrities before Augustus took the reign and took Pliny’s interest as a subject of discussion.

This ancient Roman painteris said to possess considerably a great ability and talent as Pliny expresses in his book of “Natural History”. However, this talent and ability seemingly didn’t shadow the behaviors in his paintings which were criticized by Pliny himself. As a painter, Arellius was famous for good and bad reasons. His skill was outstanding, yet his choice of model for his paintings invited many frowns, included Pliny.

Arellius was prone to be in love and being with a woman or many women. For one-word description, he was quite the Casanova of the ancient Roman painter. This personal habit surely wasn’t the biggest of an issue, yet Arellius ‘included’ that habit into his practice in paintings and that, disgraced the divine goddesses of ancient civilization. Thus, it became totally different. When he took his tools to make the painting of goddesses, he added features of his women, the mistresses, in. Hence, an additional figure of prostitute-likes was also presented in his paintings. It’s considered as an insult to picture the supposedly divine women that way. Well, thanks to his antics, it preserves his name as one of the great painters of those mesmerizing Roman paintings.

Gaius Fabius Pictor

If we talk about the ancient Roman painters, Gaius Fabius Pictor was a prominent figure we’re damned to not know. The record for his paintings and his identity as a painter is kept, again, by Pliny. Gaius Fabius Pictor is said to be the beginning mark of Roman paintings. His work was distinctive and defined and no other paintings were Roman before his. His paintings were matchless.

From the document, Gaius was affectionately called by Pictor by the Romans. In the Roman hierarchy, he was born in a noble and celebrated family of the Fabii. Pictor had Rome as the territory of his painting practice. He produced some of the wonderful paintings to decorate the Temple of Salus with apparently a representation of Bubulus victorious battle against the Samnites. Many of his painting preserved by the Romans, yet it’s now the only story since it’s all destroyed by fire in the reign of Emperor Gaius. Although it once held a great worth, Pictor’s paintings for one and many reasons turned to only have a little worth in the Emperor’s and Roman’ eyes in the future.

Painting was then regarded small which only respected a little. The title of Pictor was later deemed as the exact oppose of honorable as he was seen as a disgrace to his family. The word Pictor since that was to picture or refer someone insensible to degrade himself by choosing the path of a painter. What a sad end for him, however, the anguish ending didn’t detach him as once a celebrated painter which makes the history of Roman arts.

Iaia of Cyzicus

Although Roman culture is well-known for its masculinity, it didn’t imply so for their painters. In our next list, we have Iaia of Cyzicus. She was the only woman to surface while her other counterparts were male. Yet, from this, we could have a glimpse that woman painters were existed, though, Iaia is the only one documented. Her name is preserved in a book from 2002 written by Commire with the title of Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia and first by Pliny. Her appearance in this book surely shows us that she was one of the prominent painters in ancient Roman.

Iaia of Cyzicus lived during the era of Marcus Terentius Varro, around 116-27 BC. She was a celebrated painter and ivory engraver. As she was a leading woman figure in this field, her paintings mostly pictured about womanhood. From many conserved paintings attributed to her name, a large panel in Naples that pictures an old woman and a self-portrait is kept as a treasure of the ancient Roman. Even though Iaia was a woman, and back to the ancient Roman woman was regarded lower, she worked faster and neater, expectedly better than her male opponents which gained her more.

Until the death approaching her, she didn’t marry and possibly it’s because of her love and passion for her painting career.

Marcus Pacuvius

Now, after a great woman painter, we return to the male painter from Roman antiquity, Marcus Pacuvius. He was lived around 220 – 130 BC and before the title of Roman Painter, he was more famous as a tragic poet. In fact, he is entitled as the greatest before Lucius Accius if it’s about the tragic poetry.

His life as a painter is particularly recorded by Pliny the Elder. In his book, Pliny mentions Temple of Hercules in the Forum Boarium as one of the well-known work among the ancient Romans. As a painter and a poet, he seemingly didn’t quite find the balance and eventually became less productive in his literature pursue. There’s only twelve plays written mostly in Greek and covering about the Trojan cycle consisted of Antiope, Armorum Judicium, Atalanta, Chryses, Dulorestes, Hermione, Iliona, Medus, Niptra, Pentheus, Periboea, and Teucer, and one praetexta that referred to the victory of Lucius Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus for the Battle of Pydna.

Between painting and poetry, Pacuvius continued his path on writing tragedies till he’s around eighty. In the last year of his life, he retires to the side of Tarentum which is now known as Taranto. In the ancient Roman history, he’s both a remarkable poet and painter.

Malibu Painter

The next one might give you a little surprise. Even though Roman paintings were heavily influenced by Greek and Etruscan, a bit of Egyptian style also touched the Roman paintings. Malibu painter is the most recognized name who painted his work with the combination of Egyptian.

He’s credited as the painter of Fayum mummy portraits which was very thick of Egyptian style. It’s presumed that he lived in Egypt around 75 and 100 AD. Hence, he has the inspiration for paintings. His characteristics were strong on the highlights and shadows. In addition, the Malibu painter painted his work in an utterly distinctive way on noses and mouths. From David’s analysis, there are three portraits entitled to him. Two of which are found at Hawara, which shows that he mostly and actively worked around the area of Arsinoe. The name of Malibu itself is derived from the first found of a woman portrait in Malibu.

It’s unique how the ancient Roman painters made their painting, isn’t it? Their ability to adapt and adopt other cultures as theirs to recreate it as new painting is surely unbeatable. Especially for the Malibu painter, it’s creative of him to take from the Egyptian instead of following the strong current of Greek style.

Quintus Pedius (deaf painter)

The next one we’ll take next is Quintus Pedius. If Malibu Painter is unique in his creation and his work combination between Egyptian and Roman. Quintus Pedis was unique and remarkable for his quality as a person and a passionate and aspiring ancient Roman painter. He was the first deaf painter to be recorded and acknowledged by both Roman and the world. In addition, as he is the first recorded deaf painter, he is also recorded as the first deaf child to receive an education. His story was bought by Pliny which only length one passage in the Natural History, the book which also tells about many Roman painters.

Our deaf painter was born in a noble family with his father was the Roman Senator Peidus Publicola. His whole family was from the upper-ups of ancient Roman history and his family had a blood link to the Roman Emperor Augustus. He was born deaf, which was sad news for the family. The ancient Roman worshiped the perfectness of the body highly, so it was dreadful to have their son deaf. So, they sought for help. From his great-uncle Corvinus, his parents were advised to teach him about painting. Thus, with permission from Augustus, Pedius learned to paint. In the ancient Roman, it’s almost impossible for others to get the same privacy. Pedius was fortunate, yet it seemed to be a coincidence that he was apparently a talented painter. Sadly, he died at a young age. When he was thirteen, Pedius left the Roman painting history with his talent.

Spurius Tadius

The last ancient Roman painterin this list is Spurius Tadius. He’s also known partially as either Ludius or Stadius. Similar to Publius, there’s only little known about him, yet it’s also not that little. Each of the painter mentioned prior him is specific in its creation, Tadius is also famous for a specific part. He was predicted to live around the Augustan period as a Roman muralist.

He was a master in his time to paint landscape mural. His work was favored by many and loved. Tadius was recognized by his paintings of villas and ports, which is detail and dramatic. However, the story of his life wasn’t documented that well and so we’re incapable to know more about him.

Ancient Roman painters and their mesmerizing paintings are truly and utterly fascinating. They have uniqueness in their style. Although it’s a sort of mix from other culture, they’ve proven themselves to be capable and found their distinction in painting as the Romans did with many fields. It carries not only aesthetic value but the development and identical value of the ancient Roman. Sadly it’s only a little portion of the ancient Roman painters that recorded in history. A real irony. As ancient Roman is one of the very ancient civilizations to be well-documented in history, their painters, unfortunately, didn’t make it there and left behind the ruins of the great history of ancient Romans. Only a few exceptional painters reach our knowledge and it’s mostly only from the document of Pliny the Elder which helps us a great number to know these few distinguished painters from the ancient Greek. His book of Natural History is really helpful and source-ful in introducing us to the ancient Roman painters. Accordingly, this small list of name preserved to the modern world is a big part of many ancient Roman painters that are now forgotten. This is as well to remind us about a part of a great culture that the Roman ever had before.

Roman arts are great, and it’s because they have many great and remarkable artists behind them. Even though many of them are forgotten, their paintings and works remain. It was a big part of Roman antiquity and it’ll be that way until the end of the time. Because the arts are also a piece that makes Roman civilization as it’s now. Hence, it makes them also the great part which cannot be stripped away from Roman history. Thus, with this, we’ll keep a piece of them remain in the world by acknowledging their paintings and preserved its remnants. As well, by learning about their life and the work they put their soul into, we can unravel more about the antiquity of Roman. But this one, we’ll see it from the ancient Roman painters which probably will be as fascinating as any other tales we know about Roman.

Tags: ancient Roman painter, great Roman painters, Roman Empire painters

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