Political, economic and social factors
The Hellenistic period began with the death of Alexander in 323BC when the Greek empire was split up into smaller kingdoms. It continued until Rome became the dominant kingdom in the region. Hellenistic period sees the rise of new thoughts/practices relating to art (Art History, art for art’s sake, art collecting and the secularisation of art).
In Rome collecting Greek art became very popular and so much so that artists started producing copies of original statues which were not necessarily to scale or in the same material. Previously religious images became ordinary household decoration so that their original meaning or significance was lost. Standardised statute bodies were mass produced minus the head so that buyers could have made a specific head made to place on it (e.g. family member, etc…)
Town planning became an important development in Rome, cities became much more about political and civic needs than religious ones. Things like bridges, aquaducts, roads and apartment buildings gained in importance while temples and shrines became less the centre of attention and smaller in scale.
Development of materials and processes
In terms of architecture two materials came to the fore marble and concrete. The sourcing of good supplies of marble ensured its use increased. The Romans also harnessed the potential of concrete to change the design and size of the buildings they produced. Both the colosseum and the Pantheon were only able to be constructed due to developments in the use of concrete. Also the use of arches becomes for more widespread, for example aquaducts.
Styles and movements
The Hellenistic period ushered in some interesting stylistic developments in art (for example naturalism and allegory). The Greek ideal of the ‘Golden Mean’ of natural symmetry and proportion declined in influence so that more extreme forms of art were produced. For example much larger statues were produced who’s proportions differ from natural ones (smaller heads, larger limbs).
Roman art was very much influenced by previous styles (especially Greek), the empire was also made up of many different cultures from many lands. For these reasons it is difficult to discern a specific Roman style though certain characteristics or qualities can be defined.
This is most notable in Architecture where developments like the triumphal arch and columns were very Roman developments to display significant historical events. Also the use very decorative displays on buildings and the development of the Roman lettering system for inscriptions.
In sculpture the development of the bust, through family portraiture, and the realistic depiction of features in these.
Critics, thinkers and historians
The Hellenistic period came out of the reign of Alexander which was considered a high point for art. After this Alexandrian art was perceived to be ‘classic’ and the ‘norm’ that subsequent art should conform to (Plato had influence in this). This really was the creation of the idea of ‘Art History’. Aristotle broke from this idea, he said the form of an object was decided by who made it, what it was made of and its purpose. This allowed artist to be more individual, expressive and ground breaking. As a consequence objects start to be valued on the merits as works of art rather than just on their function or purpose.
Socrates ideas around the nature of man led onto the more natural depiction of man in art and the decline in the Greek ‘ideal’ depiction.