The Colors of Rome

by Danilo Brunetti

A vibrant and exciting exhibit displays ancient mosaics that have been underwraps for centuries. Tiffany Parks explains.

Perhaps no medium can maintain its original essence across the centuries better than the art of mosaic. The permanence of those colored stones can stand the test of time unlike frescoes that fade, buildings that crumble, or artifacts that fall apart. Nevertheless, mosaics require care and restoration too, just like any delicate work of art. And now, thanks to decades of uninterrupted interventions of the priceless mosaics of the Capitoline Collections, the exhibition The Colors of the Romans, at Centrale Montemartini, presents six mosaic masterpieces never available to the public before now. These six works enhance the already wide selection of mosaics that have been on display at the museum since April 2021, a colorful collection that tells the story of Rome.

The works on display illustrate various themes, such as History and Technique, Daily Life in Rome, or Tomb Mosaics, and each unique piece features never before seen figurative and geometric motifs. The first two mosaics on exhibit are characterized by colored textures made with large tesserae of precious polychrome marble. The first possesses a checkerboard pattern with squares of different colors, while the second is decorated with a more complex composition made up of geometric and floral motifs. Tiles of precious marble, basalt, and red porphyry create a vibrant chromatic contrast.

In another section, a large floor mosaic with coffered decorations boasts an exceptional state of conservation. It comes from a luxurious domus that stood on the Aventine Hill during the Republican age, and is, miraculously, thoroughly intact. A black and white mosaic taken from the floor of an ancient tomb presents lively decorations of cupids surrounded by acanthus shoots. It was discovered in 1936 during the excavations for the construction of a church near Trastevere station.