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Sunday, May 9, 2021

"Colors of the Romans: Mosaics from the Capitoline Collections" opens at the Centrale Montemartini in Rome

The “Colors of the Romans” exhibition at Centrale Montemartini, one of Rome’s great museums, hopes to attract tourists to the Italian capital through this lesser-known but varied selection of mosaics. The exhibition is divided into four sections. 

The first showcases the history and mosaic techniques. The works chosen represent all types of mosaic floors and wall decorations, allowing to illustrate through the techniques, materials, colors, decorative motifs, the stylistic evolution and the transformation of mosaic art over time. 

The second explores living and dwelling in Rome between the end of the Republican age and the late ancient age: luxury residences and domestic contexts.  The route follows a chronological criterion, passing from the oldest examples - such as the large polychrome mosaic with coffered, discovered at the Villa Casali al Celio - to the more recent ones, up to the fourth century CE, the period to which the mosaic belongs with a seasonal bust, perhaps part of the floor ornamentation of a building that was owned by the Emperor Gallienus. 

The third examines the mosaic’s sacred function, particularly those of the Hilarian basilica,  seat of the college of priests assigned to the cult of Cybele and Attis. Manius Poblicius Hilarushe was the rich pearl merchant who incurred the financial burdens for the construction of the basilica. The first archaeological remains of the Hilarian Basilica came to light between 1889 and 1890 during the excavations for the construction of the Celio military hospital. 

The fourth demonstrates  how mosaics were used in funerary buildings in the necropolis of the suburb of Rome to evoke the fundamental collective values ​​of Roman society. With its bright colors, the octagonal mosaic with peacocks is an emblematic example of a decorative motif full of eschatological and salvific meanings: the peacock, a bird sacred to Dionysus, losing its tail every year and putting it back in spring with the blossoming of flowers, alludes to regeneration beyond death. 

The rich and precious archive documentation , which accompanies the works on display, illustrates the findings with historical photos, watercolors and drawings, testimonies that help to tell the climate and circumstances that determined these discoveries: the urban transformations and the building fervor that characterized the history of Rome between the last decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the last century, when, in parallel with the progressive expansion of the city to meet its new function as the capital of Italy, one of the most "fortunate" pages of Roman archeology. 

Images courtesy of the Centrale Montemartini Museum in Rome.

Octagonal polychrome mosaic with peacocks. Tesserae of limestone, marble and glass rods. Coming from Rome, from a tomb along the Via Appia, near the left tower of the Porta S. Sebastiano. Image courtesy of the Centrale Montemartini Museum in Rome.

Polychrome wall mosaic with ship and lighthouse. Vitreous paste tesserae of various colors; white tiles in limestone material. Discovered in Rome in 1876 during the excavations for the opening of Via Nazionale. Image courtesy of the Centrale Montemartini Museum in Rome.

Black and white mosaic with an evil eye scene. Found in 1885 during the excavations for the construction of the Celio Military Hospital. (First?) Half II century CE. Image courtesy of the Centrale Montemartini Museum in Rome.


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