Roman Mosaics – The Rules

July 10, 2016

Volume 1, Roman Mosaics – The Rules is now available as a PDF to download, 59 pages, the main text on making copies of Roman mosaics. £8.00 and you receive the download link on payment.

http://www.romanmosaicworkshops.co.uk/ourshop/prod_5082044-Volume-I-Roman-Mosaics-The-Rules-PDF-download.html

Volume I front page


How fast can you work?

July 10, 2016

The following text is from my last newsletter and I think it’s worth repeating here as it does give us an idea of just how fast a Roman floor mosaic could be laid. The full newsletter can be accessed here.
To answer the question of how fast can you work we need to look at how fast we think the mosaicists from the time of Rome worked. What is the first thing that you see about a Roman floor mosaic? Well………it’s on the floor! This should give us a clue about how they viewed them, art or craft? It has to be a craft, in much the same way as we consider how to get our bathrooms tiled. Even the Alexander mosaic was on the floor, not on a wall as something you’d spend time over in contemplation. Yes, there were those that made a statement, usually about the owner, their level of education, (look at my mosaic with scenes from Greek mythology, I must be well educated!), their ability to spend large amounts of money but mostly, I believe, they were just part of the architecture. 

As part of the fabric of the building they needed to be completed within a certain time, nobody would have a villa built and then be ready to wait a year for the mosaics to be done. When you work to recreate a Roman mosaic now then I firmly believe that it is not just the application of the Rules which makes it Roman, but also the way in which you work. You need to have a set rate of work, not fast, but a steady speed that allows you to complete similar mosaics in the same time, every time. 
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How often do you go back and correct mistakes? Some mistakes you have to correct, not many though. Mostly on noticing them your attitude should be, ‘I’ll learn from that and not repeat it but it doesn’t matter enough for me to take up the extra time needed to go back and redo it’. Look at the original mosaics and see how many areas you think would benefit from a bit of tidying up and you’ll be surprised to see how rough some of the mosaics actually are when you get up close.

You should be able to lay 0.8 – 1 square metre a day, labour was never an issue in the Roman Empire with it being a slave economy  so you could have five teams working in a villa, that’s five square metres a day. The idea of the mosaics for a villa taking over a year seems very improbable. 
Set your standard of work, stick to it and then you’ll find your work speed. 

If you want to know more about the Rules in Roman mosaics then you can find my online courses here.


Mosaic restoration examples

April 4, 2014

Mosaic restoration examples

When you looking to make a copy of a Roman mosaic you do need to look out for those that have been restored. This example is from from the Archaeological Museum in Barcelona. I don’t recall anything saying it had been subject to restoration but if you look at the figures eyes and hair I would say it has.

If a mosaic has been restored it should be made very clear which areas are original and which are guesswork on the part of the restorers. Here you have a figure looking over to the left yet his eyes are set as if he would be face on to the viewer.


Visual aids

April 3, 2014

I’ve been busy writing out the workshop manual for using a staff (Volume III) and one very important thing that comes up for me is that marking individual tesserae on there should only be something you refer to at the beginning.
You need the centre tesserae marked (and you will use this in geometric patterns all the time) but the whole point of working in the way that I suggest is so you develop your eye. You want to be able to look at a space and know how many tesserae will fit in it without having to use a visual aid. This is something that you need for both figural and geometric work.
Use a guide such as a spacer block or markings on a staff to help you but try to move away from using them when you can. In time you will be able to look at a space and know exactly how many lines will fit.

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Zeugma, a closer look at one of the mosaics

March 28, 2014

The mosaics found at Zeugma in Turkey have always been held up as some of the best examples of figurative mosaic work. By and large I’d agree with that, but lets take a closer look at one and see what it can tell us about the mosaicists involved. You will be able to see the result of many hands at work, of differing standards and skills. The first image is as it is, just look at that and see what comes up. Then look at the second one with highlight lines to show certain discrepancies.
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This is ‘Euphrates’, the centre detail of a mosaic which formed the bottom of a shallow pool and is dated to 2nd – mid 3rd century AD.
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1. The face is done well, with the classic Zeugma style with a lot of triangles being used. 
2. Now look at the position of the head on the shoulders, not quite central is it?
3. His left arm (A) is out of proportion, shoulder to elbow is much shorter than elbow to wrist. Look also at the shape of elbow to wrist, also there doesn’t seem to be a wrist.
4. Top of thigh to knee (B) should equal knee to base of foot yet is longer, not by much but enough to be noticeable.
5. His right leg, (C), the angle of his foot doesn’t match in with how his thigh would lie. Also using the lighter tesserae on the folds draws the eye to see the right leg going up to his left thigh.
6. His right hand (D) isn’t done to the same level of skill as his face.

This is not to deride the mosaic itself but more to show how this work could have been like a production line with different workers moving it to do different parts. Notice the difference in tesserae size between his mantle cloth and his body. You have to wonder if the head was done, then the body was done by another mosaicist then the mantle by others who weren’t so accomplished in figure work. Lastly we have to remember that these mosaics are done with the mosaicist working very close to something that is designed to be seen from standing position. ideally you need to keep stepping back from your work to check how it appears. That’s fine if you’re working at a table but not so easy if you’re on your knees or sitting on the floor!
So when you look at figure mosaics look at them from an anatomical perspective as well as stylistic impression.


Practice your basics

March 24, 2014

Practice your basics

A good way to practice your basic skills of making a neat mosaic and the Rules that apply to this is to do a piece using just one colour of tesserae. This way you’re not distracted by the pattern and things such as size discrepancies, excessive gaps, channeling are all revealed!


Tesserae thickness at Ostia Antica

January 22, 2014

A very good photo from James Vance (his blog is linked at the end) of tesserae from one of the mosaics at Ostia Antica in Italy. It shows just how deep some of these tesserae were.

The questions I feel this brings up are;
Seeing as you can have relatively thin marble tesserae for a floor then what dictated the size of tesserae? Was it;
1. The area they were in, i.e. high foot traffic, private rooms?
2. The size of slabs/tiles they were cut from?
3. The preference of the mosaicists?

I don’t imagine there is a database of tesserae thickness with the above points taken account of but it would be useful to have these details recorded. If anyone has the opportunity to record the details (measurements and point 1 above) then please could you send them onto me, thanks.

Image copyright James Vance

http://gallivance.net/2014/01/20/mules-gods-and-ad-men-ostia-anticas-mosaics/ blog

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