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Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Mosaicist of Ostia Antica

At the mouth of the river Tiber, 19 miles to the northeast of Rome, Ostia Antica was the seaport of ancient Rome.

I remember visiting this place 43 years ago with my parents and still have vivid memories of the gorgeous mosaics, frescoes, and of the tombs along the main road into town.

As a port, Ostia was a wealthy city, and lots of mosaics decorated the walls and floors of the homes of rich merchants who usually were running their businesses from their homes, and in order to impress their clients kept lavish reception rooms were they would receive and entertain them. 

Some of these mosaics were representing the business the owner was in. The one underneath decorated the floor outside an office belonging to "the shippers of Sullecthum", a town on the eastern coast of Tunisia. It shows two large sailing ships passing each other at the lighthouse marking the harbour entrance.

Foro delle Corporazioni, Ostia; ca. 200 CE

So there were lots of mosaics in Ostia, and lots of mosaic labourers were needed to build them...

One bas relief sculpture on a wall represents two seated Tagliapietre - stone cutters - cutting tesserae with a hardie and martelina hammer. 

Behind them, the Musivarius - actual mosaic project manager, is telling other workers were to put the stones slabs to be cut by the Tagliapietre.

And how do we know that ?

Simply because of the tools they are using; they are using the same as the ones we still use to this day :

Hardie and Martelina hammer.

Ostia was founded during the 7th century BC. As most of the parts excavated to this day date from the 3rd century BC. This bas relief has been dated between 280 and 270 BC.

So when I cut my tesserae in Alabama in 2014....

I am basically reproducing, 2300 years later, the same moves the Roman mosaicists were performing to cut their tesserae. 

This is a great source of pride and satisfaction. When I reproduce the moves of these ancient masters, I am in communion with them. Beyond time, 23 centuries abolished, my work is a continuity of theirs. 

This is how rituals work, this is why it is important - even though technology has evolved, and sometimes I use different tools - to use the same tools and moves the ancestors used. In this way, their knowledge and expression is revived and transmitted. They live in us. 

"Ubi tu Gaius" Roman Inscription mosaic, work in process - 2013.

When you install in your home a mosaic made in this way; of stone and ceramic tesserae individually cut in the same way our ancestors of Ostia were cutting theirs, you not only bring a piece of art in your home. You bring their knowledge, their experience, their loves, their hopes and fears, in fact you are bringing a little of their whole lives into your home. 

I have always admired Roman Art. The strong personal connection I feel with the ancient mosaicists through my work is a source of great pride and satisfaction to me. Through my own work and creations, I transmit something of theirs. Somehow, they keep living through my work, and I am thankful for their lives and work.

Roman wedding vows mosaic. Granite, Limestone, Ceramics

Bring the unique art of the Musivarius in your home. Visit my Web site mosaicblues. You can purchase one existing mosaic or commission a special project. I will work with you to design the perfect piece fitted to your home's unique style. Or if you simply would like to discuss the wonderful art of modern and ancient mosaics, please contact me by email at or by phone at (334) 798 1639.

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