MosaicBlues: 3 Roman Mosaics figuring two ducks, a cat and a partridge. .entry-content { font-size:25px !important; }

Sunday, October 8, 2017

3 Roman Mosaics figuring two ducks, a cat and a partridge.

There is a lot to learn by studying Roman mosaics about life in the Empire,  what people liked and disliked, how they lived, worked, died and loved. And of course about the ways of ancient mosaicists.

I believe our ancetors used some sort of catalogs of drawings to show their patrons (I do that !). It is likely some designs were simply copied, there were no copyrights in the Roman times... A few month ago I wrote about the Mona Lisa of Palestine and her copy.

Today lets look at 3 Roman pieces which very much illustrate how people were copying or borrowing each other's designs...

Central panel of a floor mosaic with a cat and two ducks. Opus vermiculatum, Roman artwork of the late Republican era, first quarter of the 1st century BC.
Floor mosaic from a Roman Villa (Rome - Cecchignola)

This piece comes from the triclinium (Banquet room) of a suburban villa of the Cecchignola area is currently visible a the Pallazo Massimo alle Terme - National Museum of Rome 

Roman mosaic representing a cat with a partridge in her mouth above ducks (on the left a male Eurasian Teal, on the right a Common Shelduck), birds, fish and shellfish.
Floor mosaic from the Villa of the Faun, Pompeii

This gorgeous piece from the triclinium of the House of the Faun in Pompeii is visible at the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, Italy.

Roman floor mosaic representing a cat biting a rooster above 2 ducks and fruits
Roman Floor mosaic of unknown provenance.  

This third piece unfortunately of unknown provenance and period can be seen at the Vatican Museum. 

These three pieces are closely related. They are similarly structured as a superposition of 2 scenes. In the upper panel a cat is biting a bird, a partridge in the first two mosaics, a rooster in the third one; In the lower panel two live ducks sit beside various edible material (lotus flowers in the Cecchignola piece; lotus flowers, dead birds and shellfish in the Pompeii piece: olives and apples in the bottom piece).

Emblema pieces were executed by highly skilled craftsmen operating out of specialized workshops. Once completed they were shipped in the whole empire to private or public buildings were other less skillful workers would mount them. There were very few workshops able to produce pieces of this quality. 

While the Pompeii and Cecchignola pieces are of close and excellent quality,  the last piece is of a inferior facture. This leads me to think that the first ones were executed in the same workshop, possibly by the same artist while the last one was executed later, in a different workshop, by a worker of lesser ability. 

How was the design passed from one shop to an other ? 

I believe our ancestors used hand-written and drawn books of patterns that apprentices would copy from their masters. Until archaeologists find and read these documents we won't know! 

If you have any knowledge on this subject, I would be very interested in hearing from you !

I am a modern mosaic artist with a deep admiration for ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine Arts.

You can see my own mosaics on my site at mosaicblues.  

If you are interested by my work or would like to drop me a line please contact me by email at or by phone at (334) 798 1639. 

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1 comment:

  1. Katherine Dunbabin in her book, 'Mosaics of the Greek and Roman World' mentions four emblemata in Italy where the figures (Theseus and the Minotaur) the main figures correspond very closely, though there are variations in the minor bystanders and in the background. Was one copied from a painting and then the others copied from that mosaic?
    I imagine though that people were very well acquainted with things like the Greek myths that maybe they just said to the mosaicist, 'I want the labours of Hercules on my floor', and the mosaicist would just do his version.

    The mosaicists would have have enough of the geometric patterns memorised that they would have been able to quickly sketch out onto a bare floor or wall for the client to see.

    Do I think they had copybooks? I'm not sure, yes it makes sense that they had them but maybe that is just from our, modern viewpoint. If someone asked for a mosaic of the Eiffel Tower how many of us would need a picture to know what they meant?