Roman mosaic

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A Roman mosaic on a wall in the House of Neptune and Amphitrite, Herculaneum, Italy, 1st century AD House of the Neptune Mosaic (7254082844).jpg
A Roman mosaic on a wall in the House of Neptune and Amphitrite, Herculaneum, Italy, 1st century AD

A 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. [1] 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.

Mosaic image made from an assemblage of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials

A mosaic is a piece of art or image made from the assembling of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials. It is often used in decorative art or as interior decoration. Most mosaics are made of small, flat, roughly square, pieces of stone or glass of different colors, known as tesserae. Some, especially floor mosaics, are made of small rounded pieces of stone, and called "pebble mosaics".

Roman Republic Period of ancient Roman civilization (509–27 BC)

The Roman Republic was the era of classical Roman civilization beginning with the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom, traditionally dated to 509 BC, and ending in 27 BC with the establishment of the Roman Empire. It was during this period that Rome's control expanded from the city's immediate surroundings to hegemony over the entire Mediterranean world.

Roman Empire period of Imperial Rome following the Roman Republic (27 BC–395 AD)

The Roman Empire was the post-Roman Republic period of the ancient Roman civilization. It had a government headed by emperors and large territorial holdings around the Mediterranean Sea in Europe, North Africa, and West Asia. From the constitutional reforms of Augustus to the military anarchy of the third century, the Empire was a principate ruled from the city of Rome. The Roman Empire was then divided between a Western Roman Empire, based in Milan and later Ravenna, and an Eastern Roman Empire, based in Nicomedia and later Constantinople, and it was ruled by multiple emperors.

Contents

Development

A Roman mosaic inscribed with the Latin phrase cave canem ("beware of the dog"), from the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii, Italy, 2nd century BC Pompeii - Cave Canem (4786638740).jpg
A Roman mosaic inscribed with the Latin phrase cave canem ("beware of the dog"), from the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii, Italy, 2nd century BC
Mosaic with Xenia, 4th century AD, Pius Clementine museum, Vatican Museums 11852 - Vatican - Pius-Clementine Museum (3482901750).jpg
Mosaic with Xenia, 4th century AD, Pius Clementine museum, Vatican Museums

The 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. [2] 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. [3] 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. [4] [5] 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. [6] [5]

Delos island in Greece

The island of Delos, near Mykonos, near the centre of the Cyclades archipelago, is one of the most important mythological, historical, and archaeological sites in Greece. The excavations in the island are among the most extensive in the Mediterranean; ongoing work takes place under the direction of the French School at Athens, and many of the artifacts found are on display at the Archaeological Museum of Delos and the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

Tessera individual tile used in a mosaic

A tessera is an individual tile, usually formed in the shape of a cube, used in creating a mosaic. It is also known as an abaciscus or abaculus.

Hellenistic period Period of ancient Greek and Mediterranean history

The Hellenistic period covers the period of Mediterranean history between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the emergence of the Roman Empire as signified by the Battle of Actium in 31 BC and the subsequent conquest of Ptolemaic Egypt the following year. The Ancient Greek word Hellas is the original word for Greece, from which the word Hellenistic was derived.

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. [7] 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). [8] [7] 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 3,200 square feet (300 m2). [9]

Pompeii Ancient Roman city near modern Naples, Italy

Pompeii was an ancient Roman city near modern Naples in the Campania region of Italy, in the territory of the comune of Pompei. Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area, was buried under 4 to 6 m of volcanic ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. Many of the inhabitants were also buried before they could escape.

Pompeian Styles artistic styles found in Pompeii

The Pompeian Styles are four periods which are distinguished in ancient Roman mural painting. They were originally delineated and described by the German archaeologist August Mau, 1840–1909, from the excavation of wall paintings at Pompeii, which is one of the largest group of surviving examples of Roman frescoes.

Hellenistic art art movement

Hellenistic art is the art of the Hellenistic period generally taken to begin with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and end with the conquest of the Greek world by the Romans, a process well underway by 146 BCE, when the Greek mainland was taken, and essentially ending in 31 BCE with the conquest of Ptolemaic Egypt following the Battle of Actium. A number of the best-known works of Greek sculpture belong to this period, including Laocoön and His Sons, Venus de Milo, and the Winged Victory of Samothrace. It follows the period of Classical Greek art, while the succeeding Greco-Roman art was very largely a continuation of Hellenistic trends.

The Alexander Mosaic from Pompeii, ca. 100 BC Alexandermosaic.jpg
The Alexander Mosaic from Pompeii, ca. 100 BC

Technology

Roman mosaics are constructed from geometrical blocks called tesserae, [10] placed together to create the shapes of figures, motifs and patterns. [2] 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. [2] Polychrome patterns were most common, but monochrome examples are known. [11] Marble and glass were occasionally used as tesserae, [12] as were small pebbles, [13] and precious metals like gold. [14] 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, [2] or mounted in a wooden frame. [15]

Monochrome shades of one color; describes paintings, drawings, design, or photographs in one color or values of one color, having only one colour

A monochromic image is one composed of one color. The term monochrome comes from the Ancient Greek: μονόχρωμος, translit. monochromos, lit. 'having one color'.

Gold Chemical element with atomic number 79

Gold is a chemical element with symbol Au and atomic number 79, making it one of the higher atomic number elements that occur naturally. In its purest form, it is a bright, slightly reddish yellow, dense, soft, malleable, and ductile metal. Chemically, gold is a transition metal and a group 11 element. It is one of the least reactive chemical elements and is solid under standard conditions. Gold often occurs in free elemental (native) form, as nuggets or grains, in rocks, in veins, and in alluvial deposits. It occurs in a solid solution series with the native element silver and also naturally alloyed with copper and palladium. Less commonly, it occurs in minerals as gold compounds, often with tellurium.

The collapse of buildings in antiquity can, paradoxically, both irrevocably destroy mosaics or protect and preserve them. [2]

Imagery

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 Olmeda, Spain, 4th-5th centuries AD 05-Mosaico del Oecus. Aquiles en Skyros alta.jpg
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 Olmeda, Spain, 4th-5th centuries AD

As well as geometric patterns and designs, Roman mosaics frequently depicted divine characters or mythological scenes. [16] [17]

Portraits

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. [18] 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. [19]

Religion

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. [9] 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.

Emblems

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

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Alexander Mosaic</i> mosaic

The Alexander Mosaic, dating from circa 100 BC, is a Roman floor mosaic originally from the House of the Faun in Pompeii, that is allegedly an imitation of Apelles' painting. It depicts a battle between the armies of Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia and measures 2.72 by 5.13 metres. The original is preserved in the Naples National Archaeological Museum. The mosaic is believed to be a copy of an early 3rd-century BC Hellenistic painting.

Roman art the visual arts made in Ancient Rome and in the territories of the Roman Empire

Roman art refers to the visual arts made in Ancient Rome and in the territories of the Roman Empire. Roman art includes architecture, painting, sculpture and mosaic work. Luxury objects in metal-work, gem engraving, ivory carvings, and glass are sometimes considered in modern terms to be minor forms of Roman art, although this would not necessarily have been the case for contemporaries. Sculpture was perhaps considered as the highest form of art by Romans, but figure painting was also very highly regarded. The two forms have had very contrasting rates of survival, with a very large body of sculpture surviving from about the 1st century BC onward, though very little from before, but very little painting at all remains, and probably nothing that a contemporary would have considered to be of the highest quality.

National Archaeological Museum, Naples Italian archeological museum known for Roman materials

The National Archaeological Museum of Naples is an important Italian archaeological museum, particularly for ancient Roman remains. Its collection includes works from Greek, Roman and Renaissance times, and especially Roman artifacts from nearby Pompeii, Stabiae and Herculaneum. It was formerly the Real Museo Borbonico.

Dion, Pieria Place in Greece

Dion or Dio is a village and a former municipality in the Pieria regional unit, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform, it is part of the municipality Dio-Olympos, of which it is a municipal unit. It is located at the foot of Mount Olympus at a distance of 17km from the capital city of Katerini.

Opus vermiculatum method of laying mosaic tesserae to emphasise an outline around a subject

Opus vermiculatum is a method of laying mosaic tesserae to emphasise an outline around a subject. This can be of one or more rows and may also provide background contrast, eg as a shadow, sometimes with Opus tessellatum. The outline created is often light and offset by a dark background for greater contrast. The name opus vermiculatum literally means "worm-like work", and has been described as one of the most demanding and elaborate forms of mosaic work. Usually opus vermiculatum is meant to put emphasis on the main design and foreground details of a work, using a smooth and flowing halo-effect. Sometimes it was used only around the head of a figure. The tesserae used were often square but can be variously shaped.

House of the Faun house in historical Pompeii

The House of the Faun, built during the 2nd century BC, was one of the largest and most impressive private residences in Pompeii, Italy, and housed many great pieces of art. It is one of the most luxurious aristocratic houses from the Roman republic, and reflects this period better than most archaeological evidence found even in Rome itself.

Nile mosaic of Palestrina

The Palestrina Mosaic or Nile mosaic of Palestrina is a late Hellenistic floor mosaic depicting the Nile in its passage from the Blue Nile to the Mediterranean. The mosaic was part of a Classical sanctuary-grotto in Palestrina, a town east of Ancient Rome, in central Italy. It has a width of 5.85 metres and a height of 4.31 metres and provides a glimpse into the Roman fascination with ancient Egyptian exoticism in the 1st century BC, both as an early manifestation of the role of Egypt in the Roman imagination and an example of the genre of "Nilotic landscape", with a long iconographic history in Egypt and the Aegean.

Gorgoneion apotropaic amulet showing the Gorgon head

In Ancient Greece, the Gorgoneion was a special apotropaic amulet showing the Gorgon head, used most famously by the Olympian deities Athena and Zeus: both are said to have worn the gorgoneion as a protective pendant. It was assumed, among other godlike attributes, as a royal aegis to imply divine birth or protection, by rulers of the Hellenistic age, as shown, for instance, on the Alexander Mosaic and the Gonzaga Cameo.

House of the Tragic Poet

The House of the Tragic Poet is a Roman house in Pompeii, Italy dating to the 2nd century BCE. The house, or villa, is famous for its elaborate mosaic floors and frescoes depicting scenes from Greek mythology.

Gnosis (artist) ancient Greek mosaic artist

Gnosis, active c. 300 BC, is the name of the artist signed upon the famous 'deer hunt mosaic' from the 'House of the Abduction of Helen' in Pella, capital of the Macedonian Kingdom. It is the first known signature of a mosaicist and the only artist name surviving on a pebble floor. It is not known whether Gnosis was the mosaic-setter or the painter of the picture which the floor composition probably reproduces. It is also not known if he was a local or an immigrant artist to the Macedonian court. In the Pella mosaics for the first time use is made of the size of the pebbles and new materials such as semi-precious stones or glass tesserae.

Domvs Romana Roman-era house just outside the walls of Mdina, Malta

The Domus Romana, stylized as the Domvs Romana, is a ruined Roman-era house located on the boundary between Mdina and Rabat, Malta. It was built in the 1st century BC as an aristocratic town house (domus) within the Roman city of Melite. In the 11th century, a Muslim cemetery was established on the remains of the domus. The site was discovered in 1881, and archaeological excavations revealed several well preserved Roman mosaics, statues and other artifacts, as well as a number of tombstones and other remains from the cemetery. Since 1882, the site has been open to the public as a museum, which is currently run by Heritage Malta

Zliten mosaic

The Zliten mosaic is a Roman floor mosaic from about the 2nd century AD, found in the town of Zliten in Libya, on the east coast of Leptis Magna. The mosaic was discovered by the Italian archaeologist Salvatore Aurigemma in 1913 and is now on display at The Archaeological Museum of Tripoli. It depicts gladiatorial contests, animal hunts, and scenes from everyday life.

Paphos Archaeological Park

Paphos Archaeological Park contains the major part of the important ancient Greek and Roman City and is located in Paphos, southwest Cyprus. The park, still under excavation, is within the Nea Pafos section of the coastal city.

Gold glass type of glass with gold leaf between layers of glass

Gold glass or gold sandwich glass is a luxury form of glass where a decorative design in gold leaf is fused between two layers of glass. First found in Hellenistic Greece, it is especially characteristic of the Roman glass of the Late Empire in the 3rd and 4th century AD, where the gold decorated roundels of cups and other vessels were often cut out of the piece they had originally decorated and cemented to the walls of the catacombs of Rome as grave markers for the small recesses where bodies were buried. About 500 pieces of gold glass used in this way have been recovered. Complete vessels are far rarer. Many show religious imagery from Christianity, traditional Greco-Roman religion and its various cultic developments, and in a few examples Judaism. Others show portraits of their owners, and the finest are "among the most vivid portraits to survive from Early Christian times. They stare out at us with an extraordinary stern and melancholy intensity". From the 1st century AD the technique was also used for the gold colour in mosaics.

Ancient Greek art

Ancient Greek art stands out among that of other ancient cultures for its development of naturalistic but idealized depictions of the human body, in which largely nude male figures were generally the focus of innovation. The rate of stylistic development between about 750 and 300 BC was remarkable by ancient standards, and in surviving works is best seen in sculpture. There were important innovations in painting, which have to be essentially reconstructed due to the lack of original survivals of quality, other than the distinct field of painted pottery.

Mosaics of Delos Ancient Greek mosaic art from Delos, Crete

The mosaics of Delos are a significant body of ancient Greek mosaic art. Most of the surviving mosaics from Delos, Greece, an island in the Cyclades, date to the last half of the 2nd century BC and early 1st century BC, during the Hellenistic period and beginning of the Roman period of Greece. Hellenistic mosaics were no longer produced after roughly 69 BC, due to warfare with the Kingdom of Pontus and subsequently abrupt decline of the island's population and position as a major trading center. Among Hellenistic Greek archaeological sites, Delos contains one of the highest concentrations of surviving mosaic artworks. Approximately half of all surviving tessellated Greek mosaics from the Hellenistic period come from Delos.

References

  1. Bertoldi 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Witts 2005.
  3. Westgate (2000), pp. 255-256.
  4. Joyce (1979), p. 260.
  5. 1 2 Dunbabin (1979), p. 265.
  6. Joyce (1979), pp. 259-260.
  7. 1 2 Westgate (2000), pp. 255-275.
  8. Joyce (1979), pp. 253-254, 257-258.
  9. 1 2 "The Hinton St Mary Mosaic". British Museum. 2015. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  10. Dunbabin 2006, p. 280.
  11. Packard 1980.
  12. Ricciardi et al.
  13. Donaldson 1965.
  14. Neri & Verità 2013.
  15. Oliver 2001.
  16. "Physical Aspects of the Polytheistic Roman Style". Tufts University. 2005. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  17. C., Rawan (11 March 2015). "Roman Mosaic Discoveries Made Through Time". Mozaico. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  18. Knox, E.L. Skip. "Alexander the Great - The Battle of Issus (334)". History of Western Civilization, Boise State University. Archived from the original on 25 March 2015. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  19. "Roman mosaic found in Libya". News24. 14 June 2005. Retrieved 21 February 2015.

Sources