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Marine Life Mosaic from House VIII Pompeii demonstrating the vermiculatum technique Roman 2nd century BCE (6) by mharrsch, via Flickr

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Mosaic floor depicting a dog and a knocked-over gold vessel. Alexandria. approx. 200-100 BC. This scene formed the center piece of a large mosaic floor.  The quality is fantastic, and this period represents a high point in the mosaic craft in antiquity. Many of the tesserae (the little pieces of stone/glass that make up the floor) are only 1-2mm across, which allows the mosaicist to achieve a painting-like effect.  This technique was known in antiquity as opus vermiculatum, or ‘wormy work’.

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opus vermiculatum---taken from the latin word 'worm.' It refers to lines of tesserae that snake around a feature in the mosaic. Often 2-3 rows of opus vermiculatum appear like a halo around something in a mosaic picture, helping it stand out from the background.

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Mosaico_pavimentale_–_Grotte_Celloni_–_Pal._Massimo. Floor mosaic depicting birds, fish and fruit basket. Opus vermiculatum, Roman artwork of the end of the Ist century AD/begin of the Ist century BC. National Museum of Rome.

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panel triangular con un antílope (detalle del mosaico "Ganimedes y el águila") - Opus vermiculatum, Opus tesselatum

Opus Vermiculatum Mosaic Pavement Depicting Dionysus (Bacchus) Roman 3rd century CE by mharrsch on Flickr.Opus Vermiculatum Mosaic Pavement Depicting Dionysus (Bacchus) Roman 3rd century CE

Palazzo Massimo alle Terme in Rome | Opus vermiculatum is a method of laying mosaic tesserae to emphasise an outline around a subject. This can be of one or more rows and may also provide background contrast, eg as a shadow, sometimes with Opus tessellatum. 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 one of the most demanding and elaborate forms of mosaic work.