The standardization of Roman mosaics

I publish every week a model of a Roman or Byzantine mosaic, A few weeks ago I published a drawing of the 6th square medallion of the great geometric mosaic of the Lugdunum museum.

standardization allowed many variations with few patterns in the great Lugdunum mosaic
the 6th medallion, Great geometric mosaic , Lugdunum

This medallion is a good example of one way Roman mosaicists were using some sort of standardization of their work. This design is composed of 2  parts

  • a center flower
  • a frame

The center flower or fleuron

and its frame

Alternate zebra frame
In fact Roman mosaics borders, although they look much simpler than the designs they frame, were often more difficult to trace than them. It is easier to correct the execution of a slightly crooked figurative motif than a faulty geometric border which must be perfect.

Collections of Models

Roman misaicists and painters often were working from standard models probably kept together in bound collections.

Fleurons are recurring patterns, there are gazillions of them. They are sometimes represented in painting, such as this one, the original of which was painted on the wall of a villa (II.9.4) in Pompeii.

Borders were also often standardized. Wave patterns, for example, originally used by Greek vase painters, were very popular.

Pebble mosaic from Pella, Macedonia, 3rd century BC
Model of a double wave border

By rotation of the central motif, the mosaicist could create other variations. With a single border and 2 fleurons, he could create 4 variants:

standardization allows many variations : 1 border, 2 centers > 4 designs
Rotating the fleurons

Colors allowed for further variations. With 4 colors: black, red in yellow and white, 5 central patterns and 5 borders, the roman mosaicist could create up to 150 different patterns.

A good example of standardization allowing for variation
2 borders, 2 fleurons, 4 coulors…

Unfortunately, we have not found any collection of models of mosaics or paintings from the Roman era. However, we have good reason to believe they existed, were used and lost.

I will come back to this one day…

Documenting existing mosaics vs planning the future ones.

French archaeologists from the CNRS and INRAP have remarkably documented the motifs of ancient geometric mosaics and their standardization in the series recueil general des mosaiques de la Gaule. They made precise drawings of the mosaics discovered throughout the territory of Roman Gaul. 

My goal is not to compete with them by creating an archive of existing mosaic designs, they do this very well, but rather to put together a collection of templates or models that can be used to create actual mosaics.

Un certain niveau de standardisation des mosaiques romaines fut achevee grace a ce type de recueil de modeles
Liber Magnus Exemplorum Musivi, I’m writing it !

They are drawing past mosaics, I draw the future ones.

I publish my patterns weekly in French and English. They are copyright free and you can use them for your own mosaic projects or other graphic arts.

If you are interested you can subscribe to my newsletters:

poissons de la mosaique de Qasr el Libya, 6eme siecle.I’ll be back next week with actual models, alternating between geometric and figurative mosaics.

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