Mosaics are considered to be among the most suggestive decorative elements of the ancient figurative culture. As the historical Pliny the Elder recounts in the first century AD in his work “Natural History,” the art of the mosaic originates as a derivation of painting in Greece, where mosaics decorate rooms in temples, the homes of the nobility and, especially after the epoch of Alexander the Great (3rd century BC), grand palaces. In Greece, this derivation strongly characterized the mosaic: it reproduced, like a light, fluid brushstroke rich in colors, a painting. This representation occupied the centers of floors.
Beginning with the 3rd century BC, the Greek mosaic technique began to incorporate tiles of various types of marble and accurately-cut colored stones. This evolution led to a clearer and more complex pictorial effect and to a richer chromatic scale, which allowed the mosaic to almost appear like a “marble painting”. This effect was obtained thanks to a technique, the opus vermiculatum, which used small pieces, shaped irregularly by design.
The Greek mosaic art, along with other Hellenic cultural aspects, penetrated Italy following Rome’s great conquests in Greece and in the Orient between the third and first centuries BC.
In order to enjoy creations such as the Greek ones in Italy, an attempt was made to imitate the Hellenic pictorial tessellated works. Greek mosaicists were called for or the polychromatic mosaics were imported.
Therefore, the polychromatic mosaics became another technique used in Rome other than the simpler decorative floor techniques that already existed and were being developed contemporarily, such as the mosaic in black-and-white.
This autonomous use permitted the Greek mosaic to maintain its fundamental characteristics, at least for all of the 2nd century AD. In the late Imperial Age, during the third and fourth centuries AD, the colored mosaic decoration clearly prevailed. This preference led to the great use of the opus sectile, the mosaic created with marble slabs (or crustae), that could be thick or thin, of relatively large dimensions, and could be cut in geometrical shapes or shapes that reproduced parts of the figure.