Roman mosaics

Roman mosaics are detailed pieces of art that were originally made by artists in Ancient Rome generally to represent a famous scene from mythology. These highly detailed mosaics consisted of geometric shapes that formed large geometric patterns to represent a historical or mythological person or scene. Most Roman mosaics were designed to be large-scale installations on floors, walls, and ceilings within palaces or homes. However, other artists created smaller scale Roman mosaics to decorate their homes.

The Alexander Mosaic

Circa 100 B.C.E., this Roman mosaic is a floor mosaic that is currently stored in Naples on a wall at the National Archeological Museum. It is arguably the most famous of all Roman mosaics and it depicts the famous battle between Alexander the Great and Darius III. Both figures are highly recognizable even today. The mosaic was discovered on a floor in the ruins of Pompeii in 1831 and is considered to be one of the most detailed of the time. Unfortunately, the artist is unknown. The Alexander Mosaic measures just under 9 feet by just under 17 feet.

There are a few main components of this Roman mosaic. The first is Alexander whose breastplate and shield feature detailed designs such as Medusa. Darius is shown riding a chariot and commanding his army to flee from the battle. The brother of Darius is depicted famously sacrificing himself in an attempt to save the king. The remainder of the mosaic consists of the armies on both sides.

Colors and Materials

Most Roman mosaics have fairly limited color palettes because of the materials that were available at the time. The majority were made of colored glass that appeared in different shades depending upon the way the light shown through it. Others were made of plaster, small colored pebbles, and on rare occasions they were even made utilizing silver or gold. This combination of materials made for Roman mosaics consisting mostly of earth tones.

Tessera is an individual tile that was generally in the shape of a square and cut from larger pieces of stone to help Ancient Roman artists create mosaics. The specific materials used were marble and limestone which is what The Alexander Mosaic was composed of. The plural of tessera is tesserae which are still in existence today and used to create modern day mosaics as well as copies of Ancient Roman mosaics. Often, students in school will study Roman art then create a mosaic.