Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Art of Rome

Roman Art offers a lot from which kids can learn by checking out examples and then trying out the art themselves.  I recommend viewing examples of any of the types of art listed here first and discussing any of the associated vocabulary or techniques that would have been used while you look.  Alice and I saw a number of Roman sculptures in the antiquities collection when we visited the museum.  When we came home, Alice used play dough to sculpt a goddess.  We discussed how a sculpture made with the same technique she was using was still a sculpture, but the technique was different from what the Greek and Romans had done.  Since I happen to have a potter's tool kit, we also used a block of wood and cut away pieces to make another sculpture.  If you have access to the right tools (which can be purchased at your local craft store), they might think it is fun to use a "chip away" technique for sculpting instead of molding, folding and shaping.  Whatever technique for sculpting your child uses it might be fun to make sure they know other ways of sculpting exist too.  Here is a link to how modern bronze statues are made from "How its Made".

If you do have the chance to visit an antiquities collection, or if you will be discussing the differences between Roman and Greek Art, make sure to point out that the Romans loved how "real" the Greeks could make their sculptures look and emulated the way Greeks depicted the human form.  However, the Greeks didn't actually make most of their sculptures all that "real" after all.  Their sculpture tried to idealize the human (or God's) body and features.  The Romans included things like large noses, wrinkles and other features the Greeks would have tried to eliminate in their artful renderings. 

Here are a few things we tried:

Projects to Try:

Make your own relief:

Much of Roman art is in relief sculptures used in their architecture and on grave stones.  Use tag board, cardboard and craft foams to stack pieces up in such a way that they make the "sculpture" for which you are aiming.  This project takes a lot of vision and fore planning, so kids Alice's age (early elementary)  may have a pretty tough time with it.  The one I did with Alice was more like a craft where I had pre-designed and cut the pieces and allowed her to stack and glue them together.  She then made lots of her own leaves to add.  In some ways it means this was more of an art history project rather than her own art, but since my objective was for her to remember what a relief was, it worked well.

This is stacked bits of tagboard and craft foam and two pieces of felt.

 Make a Story Column like Trajan's:

Use a paper towel roll to tell your story or that of something else, maybe a favorite myth as you spiral around the roll.  We didn't make ours a relief, but You can see how the story develops as you follow the spiraling seam on the roll around the column.  On cardboard, I recommend sharpies OR crayons specifically made for construction paper or both as is the case with ours.


Complete a Mosaic:

First, look at some examples of mosaics so your child or children understand the range of what is possible and what a mosaic looks like.  Alice's mosaic was completed with a kit by the metropolitan Museum of Art.  It is actually a reproduction of a Byzantine Mosaic, but again, my objectives were more about learning the vocabulary word "mosaic" and less about developing her artistic skills for this one so it worked.  To order, visit the Met's website at  Our kit was "The Personification of Ktisis" from the "My Masterpiece" collection. 

If you'd rather do your own mosaic (or have your child do his or her own), you can use any number of things to complete a mosaic.  First, have your child draw a picture on graph paper and color it in.  Then choose which media you will allow your child to use for his/her mosaic.  Torn scraps of paper will work just as well as actually going out and buying the tiles, adhesive and grout to actually make the mosaic AND be a lot less expensive, but harder to preserve.  It just depends on your goals for the project.  Other items that can be used instead of tiles can include, buttons, broken bits of plastic from toys, food  containers and other items, art foam cut into small squares or rectangles, dyed nut shells (I am currently collecting pistachio shells for a mosaic project we will be doing), dyed egg shells . . . your imagination is really the only limit here.  Really, your imagination is the only limit.  Check out the combination relief/mosaic made from SCREWS to the right.  Incredible! 
Here is a video about the Lod Mosaic's discovery.

The Book Shown Here is: St. Valentine by Robert Sabuda.  We used the book as Inspiration.

Make a Signet Ring:

For little fingers, get an old plastic play ring that won't be terribly missed.  Older kids can make the ring part out of clay themselves.  Make a block of air-dry clay for your child (or have older child make one) that will fit the ring and child's finger in size.  Roll it or press it so it is somewhat flat on both sides and then using toothpicks, have your child carve out his or her "signature symbol" of choice.  Without destroying the carving, turn the clay over and gently press the ring into the signet charm.  Allow the ring to air dry and your child now has a signet ring.  If the carving is wide and deep enough, you can use play dough, silly puddy, or more clay to demonstrate to your child how it molds the other substance to its own shape.  Here is video of a collection of Roman Rings and signet stones.  If you have explained the function sufficiently, this should solidify the child's understanding of how a signet ring worked to communicate who letters and documents were from.  As an aside and FYI, authentic rings were sometimes actually made so the signet portion was worn against the skin.  The ring was removed and the signet turned outward on the ring for use!  Wow!  (For more about Roman Clothing and related projects, click on the link).

Complete a Fresco:

Here is a Youtube video by Blick Art supplies with how to do dry plaster fresco with your kids.  Frescoes were used for centuries so this activity can be a great reference later too.

Don't Forget the Architecture:

Architecture can also be art - especially the way the Romans did it (when it comes to their public spaces such as bath houses, theaters, circuses, government buidings and palaces for their emperors and upper crust anyway).  To really get a look at the buildings of this talented group of builders, check out this link to the Master Builder's Lesson Resources.

Sculpt a Bust or Statue:

Let your child mold clay into a bust of themselves or someone they love OR carve a block of clay or play dough into a sculpture of themselves or someone they love.



A Few More Videos:

Plebeian Roman Art

An Introduction to Roman Architecture - Lecture from Yale Professor Kleiner - If you enjoy it, more from the same professor will be listed by Youtube to the right of the movie.

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