Greek artwork, yes! Roman artwork, meh!
Ever since seeing the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum, with their sinuous, flowing togas that cling to the figures like a wet t-shirt contest, I became a bit biased towards Greek Art vs. Roman Art. Roman art always seemed kind of distant and stylized to me, compared with the more-realistic approach of the Greeks. What I hadn’t taken into account is that there’s more to ancient art than just statues and sculptures. In the case of the Romans, for me, it’s all about the mosaics.
My partner and I arrive at Sicily’s Villa Romana del Casale, a few miles outside of Piazza Armerina, fairly early in the morning. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Villa Romana isn’t much to look at from first glance. A rich man’s villa back in the 4th Century, the property was completely abandoned in the 12th century after a landslide covered the villa. As it turns out, the landslide was very fortuitous for the modern visitor and art historians, as it preserved an incredible number of absolutely gorgeous Roman mosaics.
Walking through the place is a dumbfounding experience. The perfectly-preserved mosaics cover over 37,000 square feet. In other words, they are *everywhere*. Studying them carefully is like stepping back in time. There are hunting scenes. And battle scenes. And scenes from mythology. What really strikes me are the mosaics depicting athletes working out in the gymnasium, complete with modern-looking medicine balls.
I always get a little choked up by moments when I’m standing someplace like this that I didn’t know existed…that somehow *shouldn’t* exist, but yet, somehow it does. I feel lucky, and honored, and maybe even a bit not worthy. The Villa Romana del Casale is just such a place. Go there and get your Wow on.