Medieval Art vs. Roman Art

What's the Difference?

Medieval art and Roman art are two distinct artistic styles that emerged in different time periods and cultures. Roman art, which flourished during the Roman Empire from the 1st century BCE to the 4th century CE, was characterized by its emphasis on realism, idealized human figures, and grand architectural structures. It showcased the Romans' mastery of techniques such as sculpture, painting, and mosaic, often depicting historical events, mythological scenes, and portraits of emperors. On the other hand, Medieval art, which spanned from the 5th to the 15th century in Europe, was heavily influenced by Christianity and focused on religious themes. It featured stylized and symbolic representations of biblical stories, saints, and religious figures, often depicted in illuminated manuscripts, stained glass windows, and frescoes. While Roman art celebrated the human form and the grandeur of the empire, Medieval art aimed to convey spiritual messages and inspire devotion.


AttributeMedieval ArtRoman Art
Time Period5th to 15th century8th century BC to 5th century AD
InfluencesEarly Christian, Byzantine, Germanic, CelticEtruscan, Greek, Hellenistic
Subject MatterReligious themes, biblical stories, saints, martyrsMythology, historical events, portraits, landscapes
StyleSymbolic, stylized, abstract, decorativeRealistic, idealized, naturalistic
MediumFresco, tempera, stained glass, illuminated manuscriptsFresco, mosaic, sculpture, painting
ArchitectureChurches, cathedrals, monasteriesTemples, basilicas, amphitheaters, aqueducts
TechniquesGold leaf, flat perspective, hierarchical scaleLinear perspective, foreshortening, contrapposto
FunctionServe as religious instruction, convey spiritual messagesDisplay power, commemorate events, honor deities
Surviving ExamplesNotre-Dame Cathedral, Bayeux TapestryColosseum, Pantheon, Trajan's Column

Further Detail


Art has always been a reflection of the culture and society in which it is created. Throughout history, different periods have produced distinct artistic styles and techniques. Two significant periods in art history are Medieval Art and Roman Art. While both periods have their unique attributes, they also share some similarities. This article aims to explore and compare the attributes of Medieval Art and Roman Art, shedding light on their differences and commonalities.

Subject Matter

One of the primary differences between Medieval Art and Roman Art lies in their subject matter. Roman Art, which flourished during the Roman Empire from the 1st century BCE to the 4th century CE, focused heavily on portraying realistic human figures, mythological scenes, and historical events. Roman artists were skilled in capturing the human form with precision and detail, often depicting emperors, gods, and goddesses in their artwork.

On the other hand, Medieval Art, which spanned from the 5th century to the 15th century, had a more religious and spiritual focus. The subject matter of Medieval Art revolved around biblical stories, saints, and religious figures. Artists of this period aimed to convey religious messages and evoke a sense of piety and devotion in the viewers. The emphasis on spirituality in Medieval Art is evident in the abundance of religious icons, altarpieces, and illuminated manuscripts.

Style and Technique

Another significant difference between Medieval Art and Roman Art lies in their style and technique. Roman Art, influenced by Greek art, was characterized by its naturalistic approach, attention to detail, and use of perspective. Roman artists employed techniques such as chiaroscuro (the use of light and shadow) to create depth and realism in their artwork. They also utilized various mediums, including frescoes, mosaics, and sculptures, to bring their artistic visions to life.

Medieval Art, on the other hand, had a more stylized and symbolic approach. Artists of this period often depicted figures in a flat and elongated manner, with little concern for anatomical accuracy. The emphasis was on conveying spiritual meaning rather than physical realism. Medieval artists employed techniques such as gold leafing, intricate patterns, and vibrant colors to create visually striking and symbolic artworks. The use of symbolism was particularly prevalent in religious art, where objects and colors held specific meanings.

Architectural Influence

Both Medieval Art and Roman Art had a significant impact on architecture. Roman architecture, known for its grandeur and engineering prowess, influenced the development of monumental structures such as amphitheaters, aqueducts, and temples. The Romans were masters of architectural techniques such as arches, vaults, and domes, which allowed them to create large and durable structures.

Medieval architecture, on the other hand, was heavily influenced by Roman architecture but also incorporated elements of Gothic style. Gothic architecture, prevalent during the High and Late Middle Ages, featured pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and flying buttresses. These architectural innovations allowed for taller and more intricate structures, such as cathedrals and castles. The grandeur and verticality of Gothic architecture aimed to inspire awe and elevate the viewer's spiritual experience.

Materials and Techniques

The choice of materials and techniques differed between Medieval Art and Roman Art. Roman artists had access to a wide range of materials, including marble, bronze, and mosaic tiles. They employed techniques such as carving, sculpting, and painting to create their artworks. The Romans were skilled in the art of fresco painting, where pigments were applied to wet plaster, resulting in vibrant and long-lasting murals.

Medieval artists, on the other hand, often worked with more limited resources. They utilized materials such as wood, stone, and stained glass. The technique of stained glass, prevalent in Gothic architecture, allowed for the creation of intricate and colorful windows that illuminated the interiors of cathedrals. Additionally, the use of illuminated manuscripts, where text and illustrations were hand-painted on parchment, was a distinctive feature of Medieval Art.

Legacy and Influence

Both Medieval Art and Roman Art have left a lasting legacy and have had a significant influence on subsequent artistic movements. Roman Art, with its emphasis on realism and classical aesthetics, laid the foundation for Western art traditions. The techniques and principles developed by Roman artists continued to be studied and emulated throughout the Renaissance and beyond.

Medieval Art, although often overshadowed by the Renaissance, played a crucial role in the development of European art. The stylized and symbolic approach of Medieval Art paved the way for the emergence of new artistic styles and movements, such as the International Gothic and the Northern Renaissance. The influence of Medieval Art can be seen in the works of renowned artists such as Jan van Eyck and Hieronymus Bosch.


Medieval Art and Roman Art, while distinct in their subject matter, style, and technique, both hold immense cultural and historical significance. Roman Art showcased the achievements of the Roman Empire and its focus on realism, while Medieval Art conveyed religious devotion and spiritual symbolism. The architectural influence of both periods can still be seen in structures around the world. The legacy of Roman Art and Medieval Art continues to inspire and shape the artistic landscape, reminding us of the rich and diverse artistic traditions that have come before us.

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