The ancient Romans were known for many things. They were revered for their military strategies, praised for their storytelling, and celebrated for their art. To this day, ancient Roman art still captivates art lovers from all over the world. Millions travel to Italy every year to see a vibrant history of artwork, some of which date back thousands of years.
Tourists visit museums like the Bargello, the National Gallery of Umbria, and the Uffizi Gallery to catch a glimpse of Italy’s most beloved paintings, sculptures, and installations. Yet perhaps the most awe-inspiring works are the ancient Roman mosaics. Once reserved for upper-class nobles’ homes and bathhouses, Roman mosaics ranged in size, subject, and composition. Each mosaic consisted of tiles, called tesserae, which can be stone, clay, glass, shell, or marble.
Roman mosaics could be decorative and complementary, large murals, or still lifes. Often they were functional art, like floor pieces, but others would be featured on large living room walls. While many were lost to time, some of these incredible works of art still exist, waiting to be seen. Here are some of the most beautiful ancient Roman mosaics and where you can visit them.
Bacchus Floor Mosaic - Plaza Massimo
Intricate pattern work surrounds the Roman god of wine and revelry in this jaw-dropping floor mosaic. Bacchus, a favorite amongst Romans, wears his infamous crown of grapes and flowers. You can find him beckoning visitors at Plaza Massimo in Flaminia, Italy.
Mosaic Floor with Head of Medusa - the Getty Villa Museum
It is hard to believe that this intricate artwork is flooring. Like many Roman mosaics, this piece is meant to delight you as you walk along a large villa corridor. The sunlight would pour in from the open windows, illuminating this detailed home decor. You can sneak a peak at Medusa at the Getty Villa Museum in Pacific Palisades, California, USA.
Dining room art has never been so glorious. Visitors to Ercolano, Italy, can take a tour of Casa di Nettuno ed Anfitrite where you can witness this magnificent wall art. This piece pays homage to Neptune, the Roman god of the Sea, and his partner, Amphitrite*. Together they stand in an ornately decorated room that exudes godly extravagance.
Fish and vegetables hanging up in a cupboard - Vatican Museum
Not all mosaics were grand or lavish; many were still-lifes of everyday objects. Found in the Vatican’s museum in Vatican City, Italy, this mosaic looks perfect for a kitchen wall. It’s quirky, like a visual shopping list for a local farmer’s market. This piece feels strangely modern, as if it could be in mass print today.
Mausoleo di Galla Placidia - Ravenna, Italy
Tucked away in Ravenna, Italy, lies some of the most impressive mosaics in the world. Tiles cover the walls and ceilings to form magnificent collages. The ceilings illustrate Biblical stories, while the archways feature timeless patterns with rich colors. When walking through the mausoleum, you are surrounded by extraordinary ancient art.
Unlike paintings, it is hard to truly appreciate a mosaic’s beauty until you see it in person. While many ancient mosaics have been lost or destroyed, art lovers can still visit several museums and heritage sites. Perhaps you, too, can see these mosaics in person and experience the beauty of an ancient art form.
If you like the mosaics featured in this article, check out our collection of Roman-inspired mosaics.
*Amphitrite is considered her Greek name though this piece uses Neptune’s Roman name.