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Contemporary writers on techniques and methods


Piovesan, R. (2014). Characterising the unique polychrome sinopia under the Lod Mosaic, Israel: pigments and painting technique. Journal of Archaeological Science. 6, 68–74. 

A PDF of the full article is available on the internet.

Abstract; A sinopia, usually a monochrome preparatory drawing made on a mortar substrate, was used in the Graeco-Roman world either as a base for frescoes or to facilitate the application of coloured mosaic tesserae on walls or floors. In 2009, during the detachment of the Lod Mosaic (Israel), an unexpected and, for the Classical Roman era, a unique, polychrome sinopia was revealed under one of the floor panels. The palette of colours includes red and yellow ochre, green earth, carbon black and the valuable red pigment cinnabar, all applied with the fresco technique, as attested by microstratigraphy.

sinopia lod mosaic  Sinopia, painted guidelines, Lod mosaic, Israel, 300 AD. This shows the setting bed where the guidelines have been painted onto the wet mortar into which the tesserae are pressed. copyright Lawrence Payne/Roman Mosaic Workshops 2014. You can use this image but please attach the copyright details, thanks. 










 Kosinka J. (1991). T H E CONSERVATION OF THE ORPHEUS MOSAIC AT PAPHOS, CYPRUS. Burbank, California: The J. Paul Getty Trust. 21.

'In the course of the detachment operation, the preparatory layers underlying the Orpheus mosaic were recorded. Of particular note are fragments, approximately 2cm x 1cm, found beneath levels 2 and 3; these show tracings of red colouring material and were probably part of the preparatory design drawing (sinopia) to define the spaces of the mosaic floor. Another fragment, found between levels 3 and 4, shows evidence of freshly incised rectilinear lines.' (Kosinka J. 1991)



Centro di Conservazione Archeologica. (2012). The Conservation of the Roman town of Zeugma 2000-2004. [Online Video]. 13 March. Available from: [Accessed: 01 May 2014].

'In some cases, on the backs of the tesserae and the removed mortar, we find the sinopia, a fresco design painted on the setting bed as a guide for the mosaicists. This provides valuable information on ancient trechniques.' (starting at 09:30 minutes).



Prefabrication (including use of the Reverse technique)

Clarke J.R. (1991). The Houses of Roman Italy, 100 B.C.-A.D. 250. . London, England: The University of California Press,. 25, (Clarke is citing Cotton & Metraux, 'The San Rocco Villa at Francolise, I will update this when I receive a copy of this book).

'Excavation of a mosaic floor of 50-30 B.C. from the Roman Villa at Francolise revealed that a repeated element - a polychrome hexagon - was prefabricated on a bench or in a workshop and transferred on cloth or wood into the penultimate cement layer. Preparation of this cement layer (called the nucleus) included impressing laying out lines to determine the hexagonal border surronding the prefabricated hexagons, dividing these laying out lines into a regular grid so that the hexagons could be regularly spaced, and adding guidelines for the actual laying of the tesserae of the borders. In the case of complex designs of 40 - 30 B.C. in the Villa at Settefinestre a line snapped in the wet penultimate mortar layer was then painted in red and yellow to guide the mosaicists.'


 Working methods found as a result of restoration work

Houix, B. (2009). In Nîmes, restoration of a Roman mosaic. Available: Last accessed 26th May 2015.

'A levelling embankment supported a bed of pebbles (statumen) on which a first concrete covering (rudus) was poured, then lime mortar and terracotta debris were added. Restoration work has revealed trowel imprints used for spreading these concrete coverings, and even the print of a nailed sole. The ground surface (opus tesselatum), consists of tesserae, measuring on average 3 to 15 mm, fixed in a lime mixture. A preparatory design was made on the still humid nucleus. During restoration, traces of cords were found corresponding to the outline of the central panel. Rare event, traces of pigments were also found (preparatory design of a bird?), opening the possibility of preliminary intervention of a painter outlining the motif in the humid lime.'




Rates of work

Penn Museum. (2010). The Roman City of Zeugma (Turkey) Conservation Project. [Online Video]. 30 November 2010. Available from: [Accessed: 5 July 2016].

Go to 51.00 and listen to Roberto Nardi discuss the speed of work, one person can lay roughly 1 square metre (3' x 3') a day. So five teams, five sqm done per day. There is no reason to talk in terms of years of work for these mosaics.