Painted and mosaic production in antiquity.

Period of duration of course
Course info
Number of course hours
Number of hours of lecturers of reference
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The course is open to both 'ordinari' and 'perfezionandi' students (from any year). The course, which includes an in-depth study of the technical-formal and decorative aspects of two specific classes of materials, is modulated in such a way as to enable students at the beginning of the course and more advanced students to find information that is not usually provided by textbooks.


In antiquity, the coating of a wall, a ceiling/vault and a pavement implied technical and productive skills (of the craftsmen who realised them), as well as economic means and specific communicative intentions (wish of conveying of a message, and self-representation within the framework of trends, tastes, and models of a specific time by patrons acting in public and private capacity). Today, a critical approach to the study of these productions means to know both contributions (and their potential limits) of the traditional and more recent scholarship on these issues.

The module programme includes an in-depth analysis of the following topics.

  1.      Introduction to the study of Roman painting and mosaic pavements, including:

-        Materials.

-        Techniques.

-        Craftsmanship and production (painters and wall painting ateliers; mosaicists and mosaic ateliers).

-        Development of decorative schemes and themes.

-        Patrons.

  1.      Theories and methods, including changes in critical approaches to the study of Roman painting over time:

-        Are the so-called Pompeian Styles still useful analytical tools?

-        The “architectural” function of wall painting.

-        Roman painting: “an art with no masters”?

-        Painting and mosaics as “support” for the transmission of iconography.

-        New technologies applied to the study of ancient paintings and mosaics.

-        The relationship with “Greek” models.

  1.      Treatment, management, analysis and study of ancient plasters and mosaics (from excavation, to study, to reconstruction, to musealisation):
  •        How do we read and study paintings?
  •        How do we classify painted plaster?
  •        How do we read and study mosaics?
  •        How should we react to the discovery of plasters and mosaic fragments during an archaeological excavation?

Obiettivi formativi

The main objective of this course is to provide the foundations for a comprehensive understanding of ancient painting and mosaics (especially Roman). At the end of the course, students will be able to place each painting and mosaic in its own context (geographical, chronological, archaeological), and to develop skills that lay the foundations for professional activities in the fields of research, cultural heritage (especially relating to paintings and mosaics), and archaeological excavation.

More specifically, the teaching aims to provide students with:

1) Knowledge of technical practices (general and specific) related to the production of wall and floor coverings (i.e. painted and stuccoed decorations applied to walls, ceilings/vaults, and mosaics).

2) Knowledge of the scientific terminology applied to the study of painted surfaces and floor coverings, and of the different techniques for cataloguing and studying them, including the most recent research tools (corpora and digital resources).

3) Knowledge of direct and indirect sources that allow scholars to outline the development of pictorial and mosaic productions in the Greek and Roman world, and an awareness of the development of similar techniques in other areas of the ancient world.

4) Awareness of how methods and approaches to the study of painted and mosaic coverings have changed over time, knowledge of which methods and approaches prevail today, and the importance of maintaining a critical approach when considering these methods.

5) Knowledge of the ways in which the iconographic repertoire was formed and spread; the significance of images in the Greek and Roman worlds; the correlation between the function of a space (a building or room) and the selection of images used to decorate it.

6) Knowledge of the role that images played in Roman society and daily life.

7) Knowledge of how painting and mosaic workshops functioned; the role of craftsmen in Greek and Roman society; the relationship between client and craftsman/artist.

Skills to be developed include:

-MAKING JUDGEMENTS: the ability to identify, read and reconstruct – even from fragmentary evidence – the formal and stylistic characteristics of painted plaster and mosaics, including their individual components (i.e. preparation layers; painted surface; geometric and decorative patterns); apply a critical approach to the analysis and study of these artefacts.

- COMMUNICATION SKILLS: clarity of presentation and mastery of appropriate disciplinary vocabulary applied to the description and study of ancient floors and mosaics.

-LEARNING SKILLS: to understand and utilise existing tools for the independent study of paintings and mosaics.

Riferimenti bibliografici

Throughout the course, the lecturer will provide students with scientific support material and suggest bibliographical references for further reading.