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Ancient Mosaics

Ancient Roman Mosaics: the technique, the colours and the history of the ancient art of mosaics in a short amount of time were everywhere in Rome and left a rich artistic legacy to the city.

A mosaic is a picture composed of many small fragments of material in different colours and shapes called tessere, and can be decorated with gold and/or precious stones.  The technique of mosaic-making originated in ancient Egypt, where they were used to decorate various objects like the Pharaohs’ thrones.  In a short amount of time, the art of mosaic making had spread also to the surrounding territories. It was mostly Kings, the nobility and other wealthy families that used mosaics to embellish their houses and places of worship.


Soon after, the art of mosaic making arrived in Rome and continued to be used for several centuries.  Still today there are laboratories that work with experts in mosaic making to reproduce and restore the ancient designs.


Initially, Roman mosiacs most closely resembled the Greek style with respect to the themes and designs. Over the years however, the Roman style evolved into its own particular style with geometric and arabic influences depicting nature and social life. The first black and white mosaics appeared during Adrian’s reign in public spaces and were less luxurious and elaborate. When you visit the Thermae of Caracalla, you can still see some well-preserved roman mosaics. In addition to the black and white mosaics, the “sectilia”, marble floor mosaics, became quite popular and some have been very well preserved especially in the ancient imperial palaces on the Palatine and in Villa Adriana in Tivoli.


The technique of mosaic making became a real decorative art and very popular with aristocratic Roman families. The mosaic became an integral part of interior design and depicted mythological scenes in temples, scenes of the sea in the thermal spas, scenes of athletes in the gymnasiums, scenes of death, and erotic scenes found in the bedrooms in private houses. The main materials used to make mosaic in ancient Rome were marble gems, stone pebbles and glass pieces of all different colours nad shapes. The glass was especially easy to manipulate and provided an extra touch of refinement to the technique. 


If you’re interested in mosaics and Roman art in general, we suggest you visit the Church of St Praxedes, rich in gold mosaics and the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, famous for its mosaics depicting the “Crowning of the Virgin” by the monk Jacopo Turri.  We also suggest a visit to Our Lady's in Trastevere Basilica, where you’ll find the roman mosaics depicting the “Story of the Virgin” by Pietro Cavallini. For those that want to relive the evolution of the art of mosaics in Rome should visit the Roman National Museum where you can learn more about the evolution of this art form in Italy.



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