Physical Aspects of the Polytheistic Roman Style

Physically, mosaic imagery of gods from this time period was constructed predominantly on the floor. Giving the images a very earthy tone and connection, the ceilings and walls tended to be avoided in the production of a mosaic during the earlier years of the ancient Roman Empire. There also tended to be great definition in the images, for mosaic art naturally creates an impression of well-defined borders and edges. The stones and tiles used in the art form naturally curve and don’t usually connect, creating boundaries as well as definition and an impression of refinement. The use of many tiles gives the image a feeling of detail, texture, and almost rough personality, without many flat or smooth areas apparent in the least. The following is a particularly strong example of the style supporting this observation

. Though symmetry is quite possible in the mosaic medium, Roman depictions of gods tend not to incorporate it, for although characteristics can be refined and detailed, they do not require a significant amount of symmetry to convey the sought-after impression. What is unique about these images is the inability to blend images to a great extent. As a result of the mosaic’s blocky and definitive nature, figures and images generally become separated from one another, and each character becomes more prominent only with the use of size or color.
A significant characteristic of ancient Roman mosaic art depicting multiple gods is the portrayal of aggressive, dominant, powerful figures. In order to convey this impression, artists enlarge the focus of the image and center it.

. This image very well illustrates this point, with a depiction of Neptune standing dominantly and centered between two smaller figures and is even enlarged relative to the horses pulling the chariot.
The choice of color in these earlier-style mosaics is very interesting and offers some insight into the Romans’ ideas and thoughts about power. In these mosaics, duller, earthy colors are predominant. The significant use of tans, browns, grays, earthy greens and yellows conveys a more solemn, respectful feeling, and connects the gods with the earth, rather than the heavens, which are commonly portrayed as rich, gold-embossed environments. Rather, the gods seem to be presented in the real world. There is no fancy gold lining, jewels, or other items conveying feelings of richness; instead, these portrayals of gods are placed in more commonplace, simpler contexts.

This may offer insight into the Romans’ ideas concerning richness, or rather the unimportance of the symbol of richness in the eyes of the Romans. This you will see in the next section, devoted to a more symbolic analysis of the style.
Though sometimes present, smaller adoring, praising figures are generally not portrayed; the focus of the mosaic tends to be a large, centered figure portrayed as physically strong, and frequently appearing as the commander of some other image. Also, importantly, the figures tend to be portrayed in an actual worldly context, such as the sea. In the following image, Neptune is portrayed as a very dominant figure, enlarged relative to the rest of the image, surrounded by smaller creatures, and commandeering his chariot in the context of the ocean (as evidenced by the marine creatures surrounding him).

. In order to convey the feeling of power, the focal figure stands tall with his head raised and confidently rules over the other figures. The god is given a sense of control with the air of confidence attracting both the viewer’s attention as well as the other characters’ attention.