Mosaic Art

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 Mosaic Artwork, Mosaic Designs, Mosaic Art
Neptune and Amphitrite mosaic from the house in Herculaneum, Pompeii

Technique

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.

Roman Mosaic Artwork, Mosaic Designs, Mosaic Artwork
The Nymphaeum with its gorgeous mosaics discovered in the garden of the House of the Neptune, Pompeii

Development

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.

Roman Mosaic Artwork, Mosaic Designs, Mosaic Design
A detail from the “Battle of Alexander and Darius at Issus” done in opus vermiculatum

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.

Roman Mosaic Artwork, Mosaic Designs, Mosaic Art
Roman floor mosaic from the 3rd century CE, done in monochrome style

Emblems

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.

Roman Mosaic Artwork, Mosaic Designs, Mosaic Mural
Mosaic floor panel made of several emblems in stone and glass

Roman Mosaic Artwork, Mosaic Designs, Ancient Mosaic Art
Roman floor mosaic depicting Apollo and Daphne, late 3rd century BCE

Imagery

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.

Roman Mosaic Artwork, Mosaic Designs, Ancient Mosaic Art
Detail from the “Alexander Mosaic”, Alexander the Great and his horse Bucephalus

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.

Roman Mosaic Artwork, Mosaic Designs, Ancient Mosaic Design
Dionysus on a Tiger, found in Casa del Fauno, Pompeii, dating back to the 2nd century BC


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M. Belosh

M. Belosh

Passionate art enthusiast; avid reader (you can find me on Goodreads under the same name); movie connoisseur; intolerable before my morning coffee.

41 Comments

  1. Krysten Quiles
    March 18, 2021 at 10:26 am

    Okay totally obsessed with these, they’re all stunning!

  2. Gunel Ibadova
    March 18, 2021 at 11:36 am

    Interesting historical post. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Nikki Wayne
    March 18, 2021 at 12:26 pm

    Thanks for sharing a little about the history. Great artworks.

  4. Sarah Stockley
    March 18, 2021 at 2:01 pm

    Oh wow. These are so beautiful. I love the intricate beauty of mosaics. Amazing!

  5. Elizabeth Keene
    March 18, 2021 at 3:02 pm

    These mosaic’s are so powerful. Thanks so much for sharing another great article about art and history.

  6. serena h
    March 18, 2021 at 9:24 pm

    These are some great pieces of artwork. Roman mosaic artwork is very beautiful no matter when you look at it. My favorite is the Apollo and daphne.

  7. Ken
    March 18, 2021 at 9:45 pm

    Those are really haunting mosaics. It would definitely look good in some buildings or restaurants. It’s a true work of art.

  8. Lay
    March 18, 2021 at 10:00 pm

    Oh wow. I could spend hours reading these kind of stuff. I love mythology and art. It’s a perfect combo, they never fail to interest me.

  9. Norma
    March 18, 2021 at 10:20 pm

    These Roman mosaics are beautiful! I am surprised how well they survived for such a long time and the colors and designs are still vibrant.

  10. Gideon Akachukwu Okorie
    March 18, 2021 at 10:39 pm

    What a wonderful work of art this is.. Cool stuff.

  11. Rosey
    March 18, 2021 at 11:24 pm

    The mosaics are really nice. I remember seeing them on walls, but not floors. I bet they are just as cool that way too.

  12. Nina
    March 19, 2021 at 5:31 am

    The cultural legacy of the Roman time is really fascinating, I have always been impressed with the mosaics and their motifs. Thank you for describing the techniques and development in such detail and sharing some beautiful mosaic paintings from that time.
    Friendly greeting,
    Nina

  13. Melissa Cushing
    March 19, 2021 at 8:15 am

    I love this post and enjoyed all fo the beautiful pictures above. I especially love the rich history behind these masterpieces. So beautiful!

  14. Amber Dickison
    March 19, 2021 at 8:55 am

    I and my partner absolutely love roman art, I honestly had no idea there were Roman mosaic art works. I know for their baths they would often have a mosaic design. This is lovely.

  15. Lyosha
    March 19, 2021 at 9:14 am

    I like roman mosaic but for me, greek is more impressive even though they are frankly similar to my eye

  16. Melissa Dixon
    March 19, 2021 at 9:28 am

    This really is beautfiul. I love learning about and seeing new art. How gorgeous!

  17. Sue-Tanya Mchorgh
    March 19, 2021 at 9:54 am

    Whew! The artwork is beautiful!

  18. Catherine
    March 19, 2021 at 2:05 pm

    I love how each image tells a story…it’s so unique and different from the other mosaic artwork I’ve seen. Beautiful post…thank you so much for sharing!

  19. Kath
    March 19, 2021 at 4:29 pm

    These are really interesting pieces that should be put on display in buildings.

  20. Quan Tran
    March 19, 2021 at 5:58 pm

    Cool blog post. I am not such a history person but I can tell there was a lot of effort into these pieces of artwork. thanks for raising awareness and telling a cool story.

  21. Kate
    March 19, 2021 at 5:59 pm

    Wow, this is fascinating! I love mosaics but had never read anything about Roman mosaics before.

  22. Lashunta
    March 19, 2021 at 7:10 pm

    Beautiful pieces of art. I love the history you provided. I would love to see some of these type of pieces in person.

  23. Nikki Wayne
    March 19, 2021 at 7:39 pm

    Great artworks. I love reading about their history as well.

  24. Rose Ann Sales
    March 20, 2021 at 2:26 am

    These beautiful mosaics are so stunning. Glad you shared their history.

  25. CARMEN
    March 20, 2021 at 2:28 am

    These are wonderful mosaic artworks. I have read history and mythology growing up. And some of these images are familiar. And I agree that art depicts the culture, beliefs, and lifestyle of a civilization. Such masterpieces!

  26. Vik
    March 20, 2021 at 5:14 am

    These are really some great pieces of artwork.some awesome and wonderful.

  27. Sue-Tanya Mchorgh
    March 20, 2021 at 10:18 am

    This is just amazing! I must be so beautiful in person.

  28. Monica Y
    March 20, 2021 at 12:59 pm

    Fascinating, I love learning about art, my dream is to take my son to all the museums and art places in Italy

  29. Sondra
    March 20, 2021 at 2:59 pm

    The artwork looks amazing. Thanks for sharing the history.

  30. Nat
    March 20, 2021 at 6:05 pm

    I love reading Roman history and would love to get one of these artwork pieces for my home too 😍 These look so good 👌🏻

  31. Jay Aguirre
    March 21, 2021 at 12:30 am

    It’s amazing just how relevant Rome remains today. They really did set the gold standard for so many things, art especially.

  32. Bindi
    March 21, 2021 at 1:11 am

    Love learning about art history. Had no idea they were using pieces as little as 1 mm. Impressive!

  33. Sonia Seivwright
    March 21, 2021 at 6:35 am

    Oh wow, never heard about the Roman Mosaics before. Thank you for sharing.

  34. Melissa Cushing
    March 21, 2021 at 11:39 am

    These are all beautiful masterpieces for sure. I love the rich history behind them and the first picture is my fave 🙂

  35. Vak
    March 21, 2021 at 12:59 pm

    Wow, it’s so beautiful. Enjoyed reading your post. thanks for sharing.

  36. Star Traci
    March 21, 2021 at 3:36 pm

    This is really cool. I love learning about art and this is so well written. I did not know about the center mosaic being removed and handed down. Thanks!

  37. Gladys Nava
    March 21, 2021 at 8:52 pm

    Such great mosaic artworks! I really love these! Thanks for sharing!

  38. Syb
    March 21, 2021 at 10:45 pm

    I am fascinated with technique and the colors of the samples you presented to us. Truly magical.

  39. Anosa
    March 23, 2021 at 2:37 am

    I do love Roman mosaic artwork and have seen a few in my travels around the globe. These are really wonderful.

  40. T.
    March 23, 2021 at 4:47 am

    This is such a great artwork. Beautifully detailed and nicely done. Would like to see these art pieces in real life.

  41. Praj
    March 23, 2021 at 5:47 am

    Wow, these Roman mosaic are amazing. I am surprised they are still intact. Beautiful indeed.