Roman Villa of Piazza Armerina
A luxurious Roman villa from around 320 CE
The mosaics are the prime reason for the fame of the Villa Romana del Casale.
The mosaics are probably made by African artists in the early 4th century CE. The North African provinces were in the economic and artistic forefront in the 4th century, and polychrome mosaics were one of the specialities of the North African artists. The mosaics at the Villa Romana del Casale are clearly African in origin, and mosaics very similar has been found in Cartage and other places in North Africa. Many of the motives of the mosaics are also African in nature, especially the hunting scenes. A substantial part of the tesserae, the small coloured stones, used in the mosaics are of African origin, so it seems the mosaicists have brought with them the colours they couldn't find locally.
It has been debated a lot whether the mosaics are made at the same time or over a prolonged period, and if it is the work of a single or several groups of mosaicists. While it is probable that several schools or companies of mosaicists have participated due to the large quantity of mosaics, it is likely that almost all mosaics are made within a fairly short period of time. Motifs such as "fishing cupids" appear repeatedly, in every single part of the villa and unmistakenly by the same artists or group of artists, so all the major parts of the villa must have been made within a short period of time, probably less than ten years. It is also highly unlikely that the commissioner of the villa would accept waiting decades for the last mosaics to be laid.
Little is known about the methods employed by the mosaicists. Many motifs, such as "lion killing antelope", "hunters carrying wild boar tied to a pole", "man on horseback abducting tiger's cub", "animals boarding ship" and "child killing animal with spear", appear in many other places around the empire, so it is likely that the mosaicists had some kind of catalogues of standard motifs that were used again and again. It is not known if such catalogues were shown to costumers or if they were internal company worksheets. A centralised production of mosaic fragments is not very likely, since such fragments would be fragile and prone to breaking during transportation. It would be easier to move the workmen. The most likely model is that the complete composition was made on location, as it had to be fitted to the exact space available, using well-known motifs for some parts and custom made motifs for others.
There has almost certainly been some division of labour between the mosaicists. The masters probably made the overall composition and maybe drew it on the ground, and skilled tessellarii, the tessarae layers, would make the central parts, less skilled apprentices the standard motifs and the latest novices the white spaces. There is some signs that the workforce was stretched to the limit during the work in the villa. A non-standard mosaic as the chariot races in the palestra is certainly drawn by a skilled designer, but the workmanship is poor. Maybe the better skilled workmen were already busy in more important rooms, forcing the master to assign a less skilled workforce to the circus mosaic.
Rooms with particularly interesting mosaics are:
The Triclinium has magnificent mosaics with mythological motives related to the Labours of Hercules, showing the arrow stricken giants, the carnage after the Twelve Labours of Hercules, and Hercules' coronation and introduction in Olympus.
In the smaller private apartments there is the Vestibule of Polyphemus with a mosaic of Ulysses and Polyphemus; the cubicle with erotic mosaic which is a bedroom with geometric mosaics with an erotic scene; and the cubicle of fruits, another cubiculum with geometric mosaics with depictions of fruit.
In the larger private apartments there are the Atrium of the Fishing Cupids with more scenes of fishing cupids; the Vestibule of Eros and Pan; the Cubicle of Children Hunting; the Hall of Arion; the Vestibule of the Small Circus;
In the thermal baths: the frigidarium with scenes of fishing cupids; the palestra with horse races at the Circus Maximus; and the entrance to the baths with a "family picture" of the domina with children and slaves.
In the guest rooms there is the room of the dance with dancing women; the room of the fishing cupids with scenes of fishing cupids and seafood; the room of the little hunt with hunting scenes with offering to Diana.
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