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Mosaic (work of art)

Artwork Info

Second century
Second century-
98 1/2 x 99 1/2 x 2 1/2 inches (250.2 x 252.7 x 6.4 centimeters)


Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Hanes

Object Number
Ancient Roman
Natural Substances

Key Ideas about this Work of Art

  • Mosaics were important symbols of wealth and social status in Roman houses. 
  • This mosaic was most likely placed in an atrium, or reception room, of a Roman house. It may have served as a decorative cover for a cistern, or underground tank used to collect rainwater.
  • This mosaic was made with white marble tiles and colorful glass pieces called tesserae (the plural form of tessera), which are small, usually square, tiles used in mosaic work. The main image features interwoven squares and flower designs that are framed by a geometric pattern.

Learn More

Houses for Roman citizens were more than places to eat and sleep. They were also places for conducting important business and maintaining social and political connections. To impress their guests, wealthy Roman citizens decorated their homes with delicately designed mosaic floors. The size of this mosaic suggests that it may have been in a house’s atrium (a courtyard surrounded by columns and partially open to the sky). An atrium is the reception area that a guest must enter before going into the main part of the house. This mosaic may have covered a cistern, which is an underground tank used to collect, store, and cool rainwater. As water flowed over the mosaic, the brightly colored stone and green glass tiles of the geometric and floral patterns would have sparkled.

Early mosaic production was simple and practical. Craftspeople used common pebbles to create a durable surface. By the fourth century BCE, a variety of colored stones and decorative patterns were used in mosaic work. Roman artists invented a technique that made mosaics look more like paintings. This involved using tesserae, which are small, square pieces of cut stone, glass, or tile.

Mosaic is an example of the creative use of tesserae. The artist created it by arranging white marble tiles and colorful glass pieces into symmetrical patterns. The mosaic’s design includes six geometric shapes (called Solomon’s knots) that are each enclosed in a hexagon and framed by a pattern called simple guilloche.

tags: function, pattern, shapes, math, geometry, order, part/whole, place, variation

Additional Resources

Resources for Teachers: 

  • Watch a video to see how Roman mosaics were made.
  • Read an article about a typical Roman atrium house and learn how it was used to reflect the owners’ social status.
  • Explore a website dedicated to the study of Roman mosaics.


Resources for Students:


  • A Roman mosaic featuring floral and geometric patterns made with pieces of white marble and colored glass.


  • A Roman mosaic featuring floral and geometric patterns made with pieces of white marble and colored glass.