Roman mosaic

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Roman mosaic
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{{Use dmy dates|date=September 2015}}File:House of the Neptune Mosaic (7254082844).jpg|thumb|400px|A Roman mosaic on a wall in the House of Neptune and Amphitrite, HerculaneumHerculaneumA Roman mosaic is a mosaic made during the Roman period, throughout the Roman Republic and later Empire. Mosaics were used in a variety of private and public buildings.{{sfn|Bertoldi|2011}} They were highly influenced by earlier and contemporary Hellenistic Greek mosaics, and often included famous figures from history and mythology, such as Alexander the Great in the Alexander Mosaic. A large proportion of surviving examples come from Italian sites such as Pompeii and Herculaneum, as well as other areas of the Roman Empire.


{{further|Hellenistic art#Paintings and mosaics|Ancient Greek art#Mosaics|Mosaics of Delos}}File:Pompeii - Cave Canem (4786638740).jpg|thumb|A Roman mosaic inscribed with the Latin phrase cave canem ("beware of the dog"), from the House of the Tragic Poet in PompeiiPompeiiFile:11852 - Vatican - Pius-Clementine Museum (3482901750).jpg|thumb|Mosaic with Xenia, 4th century AD, Pius Clementine museum, Vatican MuseumsVatican MuseumsThe earliest examples of Roman mosaic flooring date to the late Republican period (2nd century BC) and are housed in Delos, Greece. Witts claims that tessellated pavements, using tesserae, were used in Europe from the late fifth to early fourth centuries BC.{{sfn|Witts|2005}} This is contradicted by Ruth Westgate, who contends that the earliest tessellated mosaics of the Hellenistic period date to the 3rd century BC, with the 2nd to early 1st-century BC mosaics of Delos constituting roughly half of the known examples.{{sfnp|Westgate|2000|pp=255-256}} Hetty Joyce and Katherine M. D. Dunbabin concur with this assessment, asserting that the transition from pebble mosaics to more complex tessellated mosaics originated in Hellenistic-Greek Sicily during the 3rd century BC, developed at sites such as Morgantina and Syracuse.{{sfnp|Joyce|1979|p=260}}{{sfnp|Dunbabin|1979|p=265}} The earliest known pebble mosaics and use of chip pavement are found at Olynthus in Greece's Chalcidice, dated to the 5th to 4th centuries BC, while other examples can be found at Pella, capital of Macedon, dated to the 4th century BC.{{sfnp|Joyce|1979|pp=259-260}}{{sfnp|Dunbabin|1979|p=265}}The earliest mosaics of Roman Pompeii, dated to the Pompeian First Style of wall painting in the late 2nd and early 1st centuries BC, were clearly derived from the Hellenistic Greek model.{{sfnp|Westgate|2000|pp=255-275}} However, they contained far more figured scenes on average, less abstract design, the absence of lead strips, as well as an almost complete lack of complex, three-dimensional scenes utilizing polychromy until the Pompeian Second Style of wall painting (80-20 BC).{{sfnp|Joyce|1979|pp=253-254, 257-258}}{{sfnp|Westgate|2000|pp=255-275}} The mosaics in the Villa Romana del Casale (c. 300 AD) from Roman Sicily perhaps represent the hallmark of mosaic art in the Late Imperial period. The mosaic decoration of the local palace complex culminates in the gallery, which contains a scene of animal hunting and fighting covering an area of {{convert|3200| sqft| m2|-2}}.WEB,weblink The Hinton St Mary Mosaic, British Museum, 2015, 19 February 2015, File:Alexandermosaic.jpg|thumb|right|300px|The Alexander MosaicAlexander Mosaic


Roman mosaics are constructed from geometrical blocks called tesserae,{{sfn|Dunbabin|2006|p=280}} placed together to create the shapes of figures, motifs and patterns.{{sfn|Witts|2005}} Materials for tesserae were obtained from local sources of natural stone, with the additions of cut brick, tile and pottery creating coloured shades of, predominantly, blue, black, red, white and yellow.{{sfn|Witts|2005}} Polychrome patterns were most common, but monochrome examples are known.{{sfn|Packard|1980}} Marble and glass were occasionally used as tesserae,{{sfn|Ricciardi|Colomban| Tournié| Macchiarola| Ayed|2009}} as were small pebbles,{{sfn|Donaldson|1965}} and precious metals like gold.{{sfn|Neri| Verità| 2013}} Mosaic decoration was not just confined to floors but featured on walls and vaults as well. Traces of guidelines have been found beneath some mosaics, either scored into or painted onto the mortar bedding. The design might also be pegged out in string,{{sfn|Witts|2005}} or mounted in a wooden frame.{{sfn|Oliver|2001}}The collapse of buildings in antiquity can, paradoxically, both irrevocably destroy mosaics or protect and preserve them.{{sfn|Witts|2005}}


File:05-Mosaico del Oecus. Aquiles en Skyros alta.jpg|thumb|Achilles being adored by princesses of Skyros, a scene from the Iliad where Odysseus (Ulysses) discovers him dressed as a woman and hiding among the princesses at the royal court of Skyros. A late Roman mosaic from La OlmedaLa OlmedaAs well as geometric patterns and designs, Roman mosaics frequently depicted divine characters or mythological scenes.WEB,weblink Physical Aspects of the Polytheistic Roman Style, Tufts University, 2005, 13 March 2015, WEB,weblink Roman Mosaic Discoveries Made Through Time, Mozaico, 11 March 2015, 13 March 2015, C., Rawan,


Imagery of famous individuals or entertaining scenes are common on Roman mosaics. The Alexander Mosaic from the House of the Faun, Pompeii depicts the Battle of Issus between Alexander the Great and Darius III.WEB,weblink Alexander the Great - The Battle of Issus (334), History of Western Civilization, Boise State University, 13 March 2015, Knox, E.L. Skip, yes,weblink" title="">weblink 25 March 2015, dmy-all, In addition to famous people from antiquity, mosaics can depict aspects of daily life. The Gladiator Mosaic from Rome depicts a fighting scene, naming each gladiator involved. A gladiatorial scene is also known from Leptis Magna.WEB,weblink Roman mosaic found in Libya, News24, 14 June 2005, 21 February 2015,


One of the earliest depictions of Roman Christianity is a mosaic from Hinton St Mary (in Dorset, England) which shows Christ with a Chi-Rho behind his head. The mosaic is now in the British Museum. Orpheus mosaics, which often include many animals drawn by the god's playing, are very common; he was also used in Early Christian art as a symbol for Christ. Scenes of Dionysus are another common subject.


Progression within the mosaic technique developed the emblem, the "heart" of all mosaics. The word emblem is used to describe a small mosaic featuring a little genre scene or still life, characterised by particularly thin tesserae made separately and mounted in a central or important position in the main panel.

Notable examples


File:BattleofIssus333BC-mosaic-detail1.jpg|Detail of Alexander Mosaic, depicting Alexander the Great, c. 100 BC, PompeiiFile:Sousse neptune.jpg|Neptune driving his chariotFile:Ulysse mosaique.jpeg|Ulysses during his journeyFile:Roman mosaic- Love Scene - Centocelle - Rome - KHM - Vienna.jpg|Love scene, 1st centuryFile:01XX Comedy Mask Old Slave Altes Museum anagoria.JPG|Comedy MaskFile:So-called Antioch Mosaic.jpg|Antioch MosaicFile:MosaicEpiphany-of-Dionysus.jpg|Epiphany of Dionysus mosaic, from the Villa of Dionysus (2nd century AD) in Dion, Greece. Now in the Archeological Museum of Dion.File:P1170845 Louvre jugement de Pâris Ma3443 rwk.jpg|Judgment of Paris, marble, limestone and glass tesserae, 115–150 AD; from the Atrium House triclinium in Antioch-on-the-OrontesFile:Gladiators from the Zliten mosaic 3 cropped.JPG|The Zliten mosaic showing gladiators, 2nd century ADFile:GiorcesBardo56.jpg|A Roman mosaic depicting the wedding of Dionysos and Ariadne, with Silenus and a satyr, 2nd century AD, Tunis, TunisiaFile:Mosaico Medusa M.A.N. 01.JPG|A mosaic showing Medusa and representational figures of the four seasons, from Palencia, Spain, made between 167 and 200 ADFile:Mosaic floor opus tessellatum detail Gorgone NAMA Athens Greece.jpg|A Roman mosaic from Piraeus depicting Medusa, using opus tessellatum, 2nd century AD, National Archaeological Museum of AthensFile:Bikini mosaic.jpg|Mosaic of female athletes playing ball at the Villa Romana del Casale of Piazza Armerina, 4th century ADFile:Ancient Roman Mosaics Villa Romana La Olmeda 000 Pedrosa De La Vega - Saldaña (Palencia).JPG|Late Roman mosaics at Villa Romana La Olmeda, Spain, 4th-5th centuries ADFile:Cirta mosaic.jpg|Triumph of Poseidon and Amphitrite showing the couple in procession, detail of a mosaic from Cirta, Roman Africa, 315–325 AD, LouvreFile:Mosaico di cristo in trono tra gli apostoli e le ss. prudenziana e prassede, 410 dc ca. 06.jpg|Paleochristian mosaic from Santa Pudenziana in Rome, c. 410 ADFile:Mosaico di Orfeo da Cagliari - Museo Archelogico di Torino.jpg|Mosaic of Orpheus from Caralis, modern Cagliari (Italy), now in Archeological Museum of TurinFile:Mosaic_Diana_at_bath.jpg|Mosaic of Diana bathing. As-Suwayda, SyriaFile:Amazonomachy Antioch Louvre Ma3457.jpg|Mosaic of Amazon warrior engaged in combat with a hippeus, 4th century AD, Louvre

See also




  • BOOK, The Vatican Museums: discover the history, the works of art, the collections, Bertoldi, Susanna, Sillabe, 2011, 978-8882712105, I Musei Vaticani: conoscere la storia, le opere, le collezioni, harv,
  • JOURNAL, Donaldson, M. Katherine, 1965, A Pebble Mosaic in Peiraeus, Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 34, 2, 77–88, 147018,weblink harv,
  • {{citation|last=Dunbabin|first=Katherine, M. D.|authorlink=Katherine Dunbabin|journal=American Journal of Archaeology|title=Technique and Materials of Hellenistic Mosaics|year=1979|publisher=Archaeological Institute of America|volume=83|number=3|jstor=507451|doi=10.2307/505057|pages=265–277|postscript=.}}
  • BOOK, Dunbabin, Katherine M. D., Mosaics of the Greek and Roman world, Cambridge University Press, 1999, 978-0521461436, harv,
  • {{citation|last=Joyce|first=Hetty|journal=American Journal of Archaeology|title=Form, Function and Technique in the Pavements of Delos and Pompeii|year=1979|publisher=Archaeological Institute of America|volume=83|number=3|jstor=505056|doi=10.2307/505056|pages=253–263|postscript=.}}
  • JOURNAL, Neri, Elisabetta, Verità, Marco, 2013, Glass and metal analyses of gold leaf tesserae from 1st to 9th century mosaics. A contribution to technological and chronological knowledge, Journal of Archaeological Science, 40, 12, 4596–4606, 10.1016/j.jas.2013.07.017, harv,
  • JOURNAL, Oliver, Andrew, 2001, A Glass Opus Sectile Panel from Corinth, Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 70, 3, 349–363, 3182066,weblink harv,
  • JOURNAL, Packard, Pamela M., A Monochrome Mosaic at Isthmia, 1980, Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 49, 4, 326–346, 147913,weblink harv,
  • JOURNAL, Ricciardi, Paola, Colomban, Philippe, Tournié, Aurélie, Macchiarola, Michele, Ayed, Naceur, 2009, A non-invasive study of Roman Age mosaic glass tesserae by means of Raman spectroscopy, Journal of Archaeological Science, 36, 11, 2551–2559, 10.1016/j.jas.2009.07.008, harv,
  • {{citation|last=Westgate|first=Ruth|journal=American Journal of Archaeology|title=Pavimenta atque emblemata vermiculata: Regional Styles in Hellenistic Mosaic and the First Mosaics at Pompeii|year=2000|publisher=Archaeological Institute of America|volume=104|number=2|jstor=507451|doi=10.2307/507451|pages=255–275|postscript=.}}
  • BOOK, Witts, Patricia, 2005, Mosaics in Roman Britain: Stories in Stone, Stroud, History Press, 978-0752434216, harv,

External links

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