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Monday, September 8, 2014

August 24, 79

1935 years ago, on August 24, 79 AD, it was another beautiful summer morning in the towns of Pompeii and Herculanum around Mount Vesuvius, Italy.

By 1:00 PM, Mount Vesuvius exploded in what is considered as one of the most catastrophic eruption in European history.

Downwind from the Volcano Pompeii was slowly covered with pumice stones and ashes. The weight made many building collapse while upwind Herculanum was originally spared. 

After several hours of this stony rain, in a second eruptive phase during the night or early on August 25, extremely fast pyroclastic surges engulfed the area South and West of the Volcano. Herculanum was quasi instantly buried under 75 feet of Pyroclastic material. Its buildings did not even have time to collapse. 

It is estimated that 16,000 people were killed by the eruption. (This is the size of the population of Alabama's Henry County where I live)... 

The whole region was buried under ashes and eruptive materials and forgotten for 15 centuries. 

60 years after the events, no one was left knowing where Pompeii had ever been located.

One of the most horrific natural catastrophy of European History... 

And yet, because of this infamous event, such beauty was preserved.

Neptune and Amphitrite mosaic, Herculanum.

This colourful piece is fully executed with glass paste tesserae, which was uncommon at this period and a good indication of the wealth of the family living in this house. 

The House of Neptune in Herculanum

Because Herculanum was almost instantly covered with an extremely hot pyroclastic surge, its buildings did not even have time to collapse. THis is why we still have numerous wall mosaics in Herculanum, which we do not find in Pompeii.

In Pompeii, the weight of ashes and pumice stone slowly falling from the sky destroyed the buildings. Most of the preserved mosaics are floor ones such as the Alexander Mosaic found in the "House of the Faun"  representing the battle of Issus between Alexander king of Macedonia and Darius emperor of the Persians.

Emperor Darius  in the Alexander Mosaic, Pompeii

The House of the Faun built during the 2nd century BC, was one of the largest, and most impressive private residences in Pompei, and housed many great pieces of art. It is one of the most luxurious aristocratic houses from the Roman Republic. Only the pillars supporting the roof were left.

The Fish Mosaic was also part of the House of the Faun. This remarkable piece accurately represents over 13 species of sea creatures. Similar mosaics were found in other houses of Pompeii.

The Romans began using mosaics during the 2nd century BC. They borrowed the technique from the Greeks they had conquered. Greek mosaicists came to Rome and worked there - as freemen or slaves - for their new masters. 

With the conquest of the Mediterranean world by the Republic, luxury items from all over the Ancient world converged toward Rome. After Cesar's death in 44 BC, the republic was abolished, and with it a certain frugal lifestyle. Wealthy "Nouveau Riche" patrons of the Empire built for themselves luxury residences. Mosaics such as the ones found in Pompeii and Herculanum were in high demand and quickly highly talented mosaicist masters and apprentices were trained in various parts of the Empire to work on the new palaces' floors and walls.  

Their mastery of their Art is clear in the above pictures. 

Today, 2000 years later, when standing in front of one of my pieces I am putting together on its bench, I sometimes become aware of the sense of focus and solitude, the intense concentration on the work I experience; time is - at least partially - abolished. And somehow I feel this is how these master craftsmen were feeling. Somehow, I am now one of them. I use some of the very same tools and moves they used, and through these moves I am in communion with them. 

And THIS, my little friends, is one more reason why I love mosaics ! 

Who knows, maybe I was one of these guys...

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If you are interested in purchasing one of my mosaics, would like to commission a special project or to simply discuss the wonderful art of modern and ancient mosaics, please contact me by email at or by phone at (334) 798 1639 or visit my remodeled Mosaicblues Website

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