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Mosaic depicting sitting dog

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Mosaic depicting sitting dog
Mosaic depicting sitting dog

Roman mosaic depicting a sitting dog. The object dates to the 2nd century BCE; currently located in Egypt, Alexandria at Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

There are many interesting facts connected with this mosaic. The mosaic was found during the construction of the new Library of Alexandria, during the archaeological rescue work in the former “palace district”.

First of all, it is supposed to be a copy of an easel painting. This thesis was based on the arrangement of the mosaic, which resembles the arrangement of other masterpieces of Greek painting “translated” into a mosaic form.

The arrangement of the pebbles is unusual. In some places, their dimensions do not exceed 1 mm, thanks to which the artist-craftsman achieved a truly spectacular effect (e.g. the effect of wet corners of a dog’s eyes).

The arrangement of the pebbles also reveals the history of the mosaic – you can see, for example, that it was repaired in antiquity. Note the irregularity in the opening of the brown vessel. The fall of some heavy object must have shattered the black dice, which were later attempted in a poorly skilful manner. Also, the crack visible in the lower part of the mosaic is very old and was repaired in antiquity (it is assumed that the crack was caused by some ground movement, collapsing, etc., which resulted in the mosaic ceasing to be perfectly flat).

Discovery of a mosaic of a dog

The circumstances in which the mosaic was found are interesting. The panel visible in the photo is only a part of the entire floor. The floor around this panel was chained. The question is why? Well, it is supposed that when the building in which the mosaic was located was abandoned in antiquity, an attempt was made to dismantle the mosaic. This shows that it was treated as a very valuable element of interior finishing, worth trying to move it to a new place. Therefore, the less valuable mosaic strip was chased around. Then an attempt was made to lift the slab on which this valuable central panel was located. Unfortunately, everything indicates that it was then that the mosaic was further damaged (cracks visible in the upper part), which meant that the intention to reuse it in some other representative place was abandoned.

The fact that an attempt was made to disassemble the mosaic is also significant, as it proves that the ancient builders were aware that this central panel was not placed directly on the poured floor, but in the workshop, on a square panel, and that only as a ready-made rigid element it was completely laid on the floor (like a large tile) and covered on the sides with less valuable patterns of stones. Since ancient builders knew that the central panel could be prized and completely moved to another place, it means that this practice of arranging intricate patterns (on a rigid board in the workshop) was a normal, familiar way of working with mosaic makers. When this rigid base broke when trying to disassemble the mosaic, the builders already knew that the mosaic could no longer be moved. Personally, I suppose the layout of the chained surface is a clue, as builders trying to lift a mosaic looked for a place where the rigid base on which the central panel was placed ends. You can clearly see that they first crimped the edge in the upper right corner and then went “in” looking for the edge of the plate. When they found it, they chained only the necessary fragment along it to be able to easily undermine it.

Author: Michał Kubicz -Sekrety Rzymu (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • Archaeology & Art
  • Lecture by prof. Anne-Marie Guimier-Sorbets from the University of Paris Ouest-Nanterre which took place on May 4, 2016 at the University of Caen Normandie in France

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