— by Pam Kosty
A large and exceptionally well-preserved ancient Roman floor mosaic, discovered in Lod, Israel, in 1996, and excavated in 2009, makes its final United States stop at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia before traveling to the Louvre in Paris and eventually, to a new museum being built just for it in Israel. Unearthing a Masterpiece: A Roman Mosaic from Lod, Israel opens at the Penn Museum February 10, at 1:00 pm, for a run through May 19, 2013.
The exhibition opening begins at 1:00 pm Sunday with a ribbon cutting ceremony. Dr. C. Brian Rose, Mediterranean Section Curator-in-Charge and content expert for the exhibition, draws guests into the process of “Deciphering the Lod Mosaic” at a 2:00 pm talk. A Family Second Sunday Workshop, “Marvelous Mosaics,” invites guests of all ages to discover the many mosaics in the Penn Museum’s collection, and create an original mosaic in the walk-in workshop from 1:00 to 4:00 pm.
Details after the jump.
The mosaic floor is believed to come from the home of a wealthy Roman living in the Eastern Roman Empire about at 300 CE. Because the mosaic’s imagery has no overt religious content, it cannot be determined whether the owner was a pagan, a Jew, or a Christian.
The exhibition features the three most complete and impressive panels found in what was probably a large reception room. Within the central panel — which measures 13 feet square — is a series of smaller squares and triangles depicting various birds, fish, and animals that surround a larger octagonal scene with ferocious wild animals: a lion and lioness, an elephant, a giraffe, a rhinoceros, a tiger, and a bull. Such animals were well known to the Romans since they appeared at gladiatorial games, where they were pitted either against each other or against human adversaries. It is indeed possible that the owner of the house was involved in the capture and trade of exotic animals for the games, which was a very lucrative profession during the empire.
The mosaic may therefore represent the largesse that the owner had conferred by staging games with wild animal hunts. Flanking the central panel to the north and south are two smaller, rectangular end panels. The north panel explores the same theme as the main panel with various creatures; the south panel is devoted to a single marine scene, complete with two Roman merchant ships. None of the mosaics contain human figures.
The footprints of several workers involved in laying the floor about 1,700 years ago — some wearing sandals and others working barefoot — were also found, and preserved, to be shown in the exhibition.
More details about the mosaic, its discovery, history, conservation, and presentation, can be found here.