Greek and Roman Mosaics

Greek and Roman Mosaics


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780789211255
Publisher: Abbeville Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/13/2012
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 11.00(w) x 13.10(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Umberto Pappalardo has served as Inspector of Excavations at Pompeii and Director of Excavations at Herculaneum.

Rosaria Ciardiello, also a classical archaeologist, received her doctorate from the University of Naples Federico II.

Luciano Pedicini, a second-generation photographer of antiquities, has contributed to numerous important publications.

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Greek and Roman Mosaics

By Umberto Pappalardo, Rosaria Ciardiello, Luciano Pedicini

Abbeville Press

Copyright © 2012 Umberto Pappalardo
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7892-1125-5


Mosaic was a widespread form of decoration in the Greek and Roman world. Evidence of its popularity can be seen in the many square miles of mosaic floors that survive from Syria to Greece, from Egypt to Tunisia, from Spain to France, from Britain to Germany, and from Croatia to Italy.

In the Hellenistic age, the tyrant Hiero II of Syracuse gave King Ptolemy III of Egypt a grand ceremonial ship whose cabins were decorated with splendid mosaics depicting scenes from the Iliad, while in the Roman age, Julius Caesar brought mosaics along on his military campaigns, presumably to adorn his tent, and the emperor Caligula desired that even his luxurious vessels on Lake Nemi be covered with polychrome mosaics.

In our own time, after one of the icons of modern culture, John Lennon of the Beatles, was assassinated on the street outside his home in New York, a nearby area of Central Park was turned into a memorial known as Strawberry Fields. This memorial features a round mosaic of a stylized sun with the title of Lennon’s most famous song, “Imagine,” in the center. Its geometric pattern may have been inspired by those of Roman mosaics, such as the apse of the caldarium in the House of Menander at Pompeii. And so we find one of the most representative arts of antiquity, seemingly vanished forever, making a very striking reappearance in the contemporary world.

This example of artistic continuity is not unique. In February 1917, when a performance of the Ballets Russes, with scenery and costumes by Picasso, was staged at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, the artist visited Pompeii with the dancer Leonide Massine and the impresario Sergei Diaghilev. None other than Jean Cocteau, who was directing the show, took a photograph of Picasso and Massine in front of the mosaic fountain in the House of Marcus Lucretius Fronto (plate 2). In the House of the Labyrinth, Picasso had the opportunity to see a mosaic depicting the Minotaur (plate 4). The artist, who had attended the Spanish bullfights since childhood and was moreover a man of extraordinary sensibility, could not but identify with this man-bull who is betrayed to his death by his half-sister. The Minotaur leaves the cave anguished, not so much by the wounds to his body as by those inflicted on his heart. From this encounter arose one of the most celebrated themes of Picasso’s art (plate 3).

The posthumous influence of the ancient art of mosaic does not end there; many other examples could be cited. For instance, some years ago, a well-known italian musical agent and passionate archaeologist of the Near East had a copy of the central part of the famous mosaic map in Madaba, depicting the city of Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, made for the music room of his home near Verona (plate 232).

Still, beginning in the Middle Ages, the art of tessellated mosaic was largely supplanted by that of large marble inlays. The cause of this decline is difficult to determine, although it is possible that in the Roman world, where half the population was enslaved, the low cost of manpower allowed for a greater abundance of such handicrafts. Indeed, the many square miles of ancient mosaics suggest that while they were very elaborate, they must not have been very costly to make. Today, in any case, the medium no longer has the importance that it did in antiquity, and there are only sporadic revivals, such as those by Italian craftsmen in Ravenna and Piazza Armerina, intended for the luxury market.


Excerpted from Greek and Roman Mosaics by Umberto Pappalardo, Rosaria Ciardiello, Luciano Pedicini. Copyright © 2012 Umberto Pappalardo. Excerpted by permission of Abbeville Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction 7

The Origins and Spread of Mosaics 11
Etymological Considerations 15
The Method of Execution 17
Pliny and Vitruvius on Mosaics 21
Types of Mosaic 25
The Mosaicists and Their Signatures 35
Workshops and Repertories 46
The Dating of Mosaics 48
Mosaics and Textiles 51
Mosaics and Architecture 53
Wall and Vault Mosaics 55
The Stylistic Development of Mosaics 56
The Iconography of Mosaics 77


Pella 99
Alexandria 110
Pergamon 115
Delos 121
Palestrina 125
The House of the Faun at Pompeii 135
The Alexander Mosaic 153
The Mosaic from the House of the Faun 167
Other Notable Dwellings of Pompeii 171
Nymphaea of the Vesuvius Cities 197
Mosaic Fountains of Campania 223
The Villa Adriana at Tivoli 231
The Musee National du Bardo, Tunis 243
Antioch on the Orontes 250
Piazza Armerina 255
The Basilica of Junius Bassus in Rome 275
The Great Palace of Constantinople 285
The Basilica of San Vitale at Ravenna 289
The Mosaic of the Holy Land at Madaba 300

Bibliography 303
Index of Names 313
Index of Places 317
Photography Credits 320

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