Lod Mosaic – exhibition notes

Lod Mosaic

A 4th century Roman mosaic from Israel

A Roman mosaic from 300 AD found in 1996 in Israel was finally exhibited last year. Having been displayed in Paris and Berlin and toured the U.S. while its home is being constructed, the Lod Mosaic made its first appearance at Waddesdon Manor in June this year, and I managed to hitch a car ride there to see in the final week of the exhibition. If it’s coming to a museum near you, I would recommend a visit! If you have missed the opportunity or it has missed you, check it out here.

About this mosaic:

  • It survived despite being situated just 1m below the ground, near a highway.
  • Imprints of hands, feet, and sandals have been preserved in the mortar.
  • There are no human figures represented, real or mythological. Sailing ships that indicate human activity, yes, but humans, no.
  • It features a giraffe, rhinoceros, and baby animals, among other animals.
  • The rhinoceros look unrealistic while other animals look realistic.
  • The hound stalking a hare eating grapes is smaller than the hare.
  • The central panel depicts the activities of an aristocrat: spectating at the games, hunting, drinking, and stocking the larder with a wide variety of prey.
  • The large beasts in the central octagon would have been paraded in amphitheatres.

My interpretation:

  • Within the predator and prey theme is Order depicted in the panel with hexagonal tableaux vs. Disorder in the sea life panel. In between is the central panel, which I take to represent the values of the household.
  • The sea life panel is ominous. The ketos (‘whale’) is associated with punishment, and it may be no coincidence that while below a larger fish is swallowing a smaller fish, above them is a ship sailing in the direction of a whale. The ship is the larger of two, and its size makes it menacing. Meanwhile, the smaller ship is sailing out of the panel, as shown by the direction of the bow and the sails. Is it a pirate ship heading into danger while a merchant’s ship sails safely past, or is it larger cargo ship getting its comeuppance and the panel a warning against excessive luxury and hubris?
  • The hare eating grapes and panthers gripping the side of a krater (‘mixing bowl for wine’) is Dionysiac. Dionysos was the god of wine and is often shown accompanied by panthers. The hare had erotic connotations, and in Euripides’ tragedy, The Bacchae, there is the phrase ‘without wine there is no love’; depicted here, it seems to show that the master and mistress of the house really knew how to enjoy themselves. In fact, Dionysos’ power is so great that he is also associated with rebirth, and hares depicted in funerary art are shown eating grapes. And it is not only wine that is associated with salvation; dolphins saved Arion, and the god Apollo, disguised as a dolphin, thwarted the ill intent of Cretan pirates only to make them priests in his temple. Dolphins frame the dodecagon. Perhaps they act as a sort of good luck charm?

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