Priceless value and undeniable beauty of the Roman Mosaic artwork
(4 min read) A Roman mosaic is a mosaic artwork that was created on the Roman Republic and Empire soil during the period spanning from the 8th century BC to the 5th century AD. Artists of the Roman Kingdom, Roman Republic, and lastly Roman Empire were eager to embrace and acquire the culture of the Hellenized Eastern Mediterranean, which lead to the introduction of the new exquisite mosaic art form. Roman mosaic in that regard can be considered to be the first common decorative medium as such. Before its inception, mosaic art was an exclusive art form reserved for the places of public interest or religious worship, and for the palaces of noble and wealthy citizens of Rome.
Roman mosaics featured a specific technique called opus tesellatum. The respective technique usually involved work with small white, black, and colored squares measuring between 0.5 and 1.5 cm, while fine details were often created with even smaller pieces, some as tiny as 1mm in size. These squares were called tesserae or tessellae and were cut from a variety of materials such as marble, glass, tile, pottery stone, smalto, and even shells. The base for the mosaic was prepared with freshly made mortar, while the gaps and fine lines between positioned tesserae were filled with liquid mortar in the process better known as grouting. Once the mosaic artwork is created and dried, it was carefully cleaned and polished.
One of the earliest works of opus vermiculatum technique that was typical for Roman mosaic art was discovered on the site in the south of Apennine Peninsula (Italy) and dates back to the 2nd or 1st century BC. The particular site once was once the territory of the great ancient city of Pompeii. One of the most famous of these early works is the Battle of Issus, discovered in Casa del Fauno in 1831. This mosaic artwork, created in the miniature mosaic technique, is by far the largest of all known Roman mosaic works, measuring11.22 by 19.42 feet. The Battle of Issus mosaic and some other Pompeiian panels are supposed to have been created by Greek artists, who were skilled in the mosaic tradition of Alexandria and Pergamum.
What seems to have led to the widespread and popularity of Roman mosaic as such are the floors. Some of the most prominent examples of the mosaic floors date to the late republican period (2nd century BC) and are found at Delos. The floors are set with somewhat bigger pieces of tesserae with a limited array of colors, leaning towards the monochrome effect (black and white). These simplified designs and uncomplicated motifs quickly became a widely used favorite of the time.
Because of the effort and dedication that mosaic artwork tends to require, the early intricate mosaics were often small. The usual size was 40x40cm laid on a rimmed or marbled tray in a mosaic specialist workshop. These pieces were called emblematas (emblems), the “hearts” of all mosaics. They were so valuable that they were often removed to be re-used elsewhere again, or handed down from generation to generation as a family heirloom.
The imagery of the classical Roman mosaic art is evidently heavily influenced by Greeks and their culture and mythology. Earlier subject matters of Roman mosaics often included sea motifs and a variety of scenes from Greek mythology, as well as crucial moments of famous battles. As the technique itself progressed, the subjects became varied as well- Later pieces of the period often included perspectives of the life and scenery in the African provinces, larger-scale hunting scenes, as well as impressionistic vegetation.
Mosaic artworks of the ancient Romans remain as a testament to their culture, beliefs, and lifestyles to this day. Not only are they beautiful masterpieces by themselves, but they are also a priceless record of the past of one great civilization. So if it’s not clear by now, THAT is why mosaic art is the best.