Opus vermiculatum
Opus vermiculatum is a type of mosaic
Mosaic is the art of creating images with an assemblage of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials. It may be a technique of decorative art, an aspect of interior decoration, or of cultural and spiritual significance as in a cathedral...

 which draws an outline around shapes using tesserae. This can be one or more rows and then contrasted in the background, typically with Opus tessellatum
Opus tessellatum
Opus tessellatum refers to a type of mosaic made from tesserae. Opus tessellatum is usually used for background consisting of horizontally or vertically arranged lines ....

. The outline created is often light and offset by a dark background for greater contrast. The name opus vermiculatum literally means "worm-like work", and has been described as the being one of the most demanding and elaborate forms of Roman mosaic. Usually opus vermiculatum is meant to put emphasis on the main design and foreground details of a work, using a smooth and flowing halo-effect. Sometimes it was used only around the head of a figure. The tesserae used were often square but can be variously shaped.


Opus vermiculatum originated in Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

, later than other mosaic types. The first example is the Sophilos mosaic of Thmuis
Thmuis is a city of Lower Egypt, on the canal east of the Nile, between its Tanitic and Mendesian branches. In Greco-Roman Egypt, Thmuis replaced Djedet as the capital of Lower Egypt's 16th nome of Kha [ Herodotus ]. The two cities are only several hundred meters apart...

, which has been dated to around 200 BC. It spread throughout the Hellenistic world, including to Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

, which used it for tomb decoration from the late 3rd to 1st century BC, and Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

, where it survived into later times. The Nile Mosaic has a very refined use of color and shows an advanced development. This may indicate that the technique was based on paintings. In the 1st century BC, it reached Italy along with other mosaic types. In Rome this type was common in the houses of Delos
The island of Delos , isolated in the centre of the roughly circular ring of islands called the Cyclades, near Mykonos, is one of the most important mythological, historical and archaeological sites in Greece...

. Many fine example of this style have been found at Pompei
Pompei is a city and comune in the province of Naples in Campania, southern Italy, famous for its ancient Roman ruins. As of 2010 its population was of 25,671.-History:...

. One remarkable work in particular portrays a scene of the Battle of Issus
Battle of Issus
The Battle of Issus occurred in southern Anatolia, in November 333 BC. The invading troops, led by the young Alexander of Macedonia, defeated the army personally led by Darius III of Achaemenid Persia in the second great battle for primacy in Asia...

, which was probably copied from a 4th century BC painting. The use of opus vermiculatum declined after the 1st century AD, but continued to be used the major style employed for finer Roman mosaics until the 4th century. By then, mosaics were becoming increasingly impressionistic, taking advantage of the crystalline reflection of the tesserae, which was better suited to opus tessellatum. It was eventually entirely abandoned for this style.
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