Like many aspects of Roman culture, the mosaic arrived from Ancient Greece where it was an established art form. The Romans adopted and transformed Greek mosaic making on a grand scale, so much so that in a short period of time there was no home of status without at least one mosaic floor. This explains the reason why Roman mosaics can be found in every corner of the Empire - from Roman Britain to the Red Sea.
Ancient Roman mosaic makers used different sizes of cubes (tesserae) made from a variety of materials including limestone, marble, chalk, glass, ceramics or even precious stones to finish the finest creations. The Roman architect Vitruvius included a description of mosaic floor preparation in his work on Roman architecture. He recommended a timber base with a two-layer concrete floor on top of which the mosaic cubes were to be laid. The cubes should then be polished to create a smooth surface and finally the gaps between the them filled in with a grout made up of lime and sand. However, individual workmanship varies greatly, with greater or lesser preparation. Simple floors could have been laid direct using guide lines scored into the concrete.
The actual designs vary significantly across the empire. In Britain, the designs follow a formulaic and geometric pattern. Whilst in the Mediterranean areas, designs are often more fluid and sometimes eccentric by comparison. As for the actual manufacture, complex designs were often prepared elsewhere in workshops by creating prefabricated panels. These were made by gluing the cubes on to a piece of fabric onto which the design had been drawn in reverse image. Alternatively, the cubes were laid out in a tray of sand and then fabric glued to them to lift them out. The prepared design was then packed with mortar, turned over and placed in position on the floor. The fabric was then removed, the cubes worked in, smoothed down, then polished and grouted.
Condition: As shown.
Dimensions: 12cm and 8cm approx. for the large pieces.
Provenance: Ex. UK auction house. Previously part of a private UK collection.