Mosaics are one of the most distinctive and widespread forms of Roman art to survive from antiquity. The majority of them covered floors and, consequently, durability was a primary reason for creating these expensive, labor-intensive compositions in colored stones and glass, imitating what could have been achieved much more easily in paint. Apart from being merely functional, floor mosaics were a significant artistic medium for the Romans. Roman Mosaics in the J. Paul Getty Museum examines several examples in the Getty’s collection with detailed narrative scenes and elaborate decorative patterns that adorned reception areas and dining rooms in private villas—spaces in which the owner could display his wealth, cultural sophistication, and artistic preferences. Beyond domestic settings, other significant mosaics in the exhibition embellished the interiors of a variety of public buildings, including baths, temples, and churches.
This catalogue includes all the examples of Roman mosaic art in the Getty’s collection. From his earliest days of collecting antiquities in Rome in 1939, J. Paul Getty expressed an interest in this medium, commenting in his diaries on various pieces he saw in and around Rome, including those at the Musei Capitolini and the Museo Nazionale Romano—Terme di Diocleziano. He also visited the Vatican mosaic factory in Rome and, impressed by its beautiful mosaics, purchased one depicting a bowl of fruit. In his 1965 memoir, The Joys of Collecting, Getty recalls with pride how he came into possession of his first ancient mosaic, the Gallo-Roman Mosaic Floor with Orpheus and Animals (see cat. 3), in 1949. Getty was fascinated by Greek and Roman culture and, in the manner of the Romans, contracted a skilled artisan to install the mosaic over the existing floor in the “Roman Room” of his new museum—the Spanish Colonial ranch house in which his collection was displayed until the Getty Villa opened in 1974. Getty describes how he set one of the stones in the mosaic floor himself. Although many of the mosaics that have entered the collection over the years have been on view at the Getty Villa, some examples in this catalogue have never before been exhibited to the public or published.
Arranged geographically by regions of the Roman Empire, the catalogue entries situate each mosaic within a broad stylistic and typological framework and illuminate the context of its discovery. A number of the mosaics in the Getty’s collection were included in the exhibition Roman Mosaics across the Empire, held at the Getty Villa in the spring of 2016. This publication was produced online and via print-on-demand to accompany the exhibition and make immediately available recent scholarly research on the collection. It is one of a new series of web-based catalogues of the collection of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan art at the Getty Villa. The author, contributors, and staff of Getty Publications are to be commended for realizing this innovative and accessible guide, which we hope will inspire more of our visitors to study and enjoy this important aspect of Roman art.