Roman mosaics for villa reconstructions - part I, Why do it?


Roman mosaics for villa reconstructions - part 1, Why do it?

These articles explore creating a copy of a Roman mosaic floor using marble and other hard stones and not modern mosaic materials. It also assumes that you want the mosaic to be created in as authentic a way as is practical.

Why have a mosaic floor?

Quite simply put it is because it is one of those things that is emblematic of Rome. Ask anyone of what images come to mind when they think of a Roman villa and the chances are it will be one of three things; an imposing building in stone, brightly coloured frescoes on the walls or floor mosaics.

If you are looking at reconstructing a Roman mosaic floor as part of a museum display or to enhance a villa reconstruction then the first thing we will look at is what can be done.

  1. Setting a mosaic to cover an entire floor. This is where you commission someone for the whole process. This can be done behind closed doors on site or at a separate workshop to avoid disturbance and the finished piece only unveiled on completion. Modern methods can be used for convenience.
  2. Setting an entire floor and allow the public to see the work in progress. This gives you the opportunity
  3. Set part of a floor to demonstrate various techniques, proven and hypothetical. These areas can be left to show tools, materials etc. This is where you have it as a static display and nothing more is done.

Let’s take a closer look at these three options. The first one will be the most expensive, this is where you commission someone to do the floor for you. Nice if you have the budget and you just want to have a floor on display. In today's economic climate though, I doubt many institutions can afford it especially when you think that to commission a mosaic floor can cost anywhere from €2,000 - €20,000 per square meter (3’ x 3’) . Even if you have the budget for this, in my opinion, it is a wasted opportunity when you can show so much to your visiting public by demonstrating the work in progress.


The second option is the main one we will be looking at, to aim for whatever amount of the floor your budget will allow for, (and you don’t have to do a whole floor), then you can involve volunteers, have staff trained up to supervise the work. By utilising just one half of a room you can allow access for the public to observe the work and spread it over months. Correctly set up the work can be stopped at any time and easily restarted. Not only can your visitors see what is involved in the work in terms of material, cutting methods, setting methods etc but they can see it all in progress.

You can use social media to allow people to track the progress of the mosaic and to explore the potential for public funding for more mosaics. Alongside the main mosaic, using the experience gained from working on it, staff can then run Roman mosaic workshops for both adults and children. Motifs, borders and other patterns from the main mosaic can be used in the workshops. They can see the patterns being created on a large scale and then make there own version.






What you can show;

  • Materials, marble and other stones ready for cutting
  • Tools etc, the hammer and hardie, adhesives, waxes.
  • Techniques, sinopia (painted guidelines), etched guidelines, the use of string and batons. The hypothetical use of the staff, working free hand. You can also show the different methods that we know of and those that are possible, direct
  • The different jobs involved in the process, painter, mosaicists, cutters, mortar mixers.


  • Direct, working straight onto the floor. We have direct evidence for this.
  • Reverse method, the pattern is drawn onto cloth in reverse. The tesserae are stuck down with water soluble glue, face down onto the cloth. When completed the whole piece is cut into sections and then flipped over onto a layer of cement on the floor. When dry the cloth is removed. This is hypothetical but we know they did have the capability to do it.
  • Emblemata - a fine mosaic is set onto a tile of terracotta or marble and this is then set into the floor and the rest of the mosaic set direct around it. There are very fine figure panels completed in this way as well has quite simple patterns.

In the third option, just having a small static display showing some of the process. This allows you to show the work without having to continue any more of the mosaic.

Other articles will be covering authenticity, budget etc.

For more information and training please contact me, Lawrence Payne