Friday, 27 June 2014

What's Beneath Our Feet

A floor can be just as provocative or beautiful as a painting.  Mosaic floors are beautiful to look at, tell a story and are heaven to walk on, the tiny mosaic pieces at slightly different levels, creating movement and sensation in three dimensions.  One of the most durable and lasting forms of floor, mosaics have been in evidence for thousands of years; made from pebbles, then tiny squares of glass, stone, terracotta and other materials.

Many exquisite examples still exist from the ancient world of Mesopotamia, the Roman world and beyond.  The significance of their pictorial message varied greatly over time and place but the intricacy of the work certainly suggested wealth and permanence in the places they were used.  Here are a few examples close to home and further afield.

Littlecote House, the Elizabethan house near the river Kennet in Wiltshire, where Henry VIII wooed Jane Seymour, is the site of a Roman floor, rediscovered in 1727 by the steward of Littlecote. The Orpheus Mosaic is almost all that remains of this hall.  Its symbolism was forbidden due to legislation against pagan ritual around 400AD.  Most of the buildings in the complex were either destroyed or fell into decay.

The Beauty of Durres, The National Museum, Tirana, 4th century BC. 
This intricate pebble mosaic was found deep in the foundations of a private house, 
apparently the floor of an ancient bathing/resting chamber.

The extraordinary fourth century mosaic floor still in place beneath the stones at the Church of The Nativity in Bethlehem, commissioned by Helena, Constantine's mother.

Uncovered in the 1950s, this villa boasts incredibly complex depictions of animals, figures and geometric patterns.  This floor is intriguing because at first glance it could be an embroidery or weaving.  Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily.

Palace of The Grand Master of the Knights of St John, sacked by the Turks, nearly destroyed by an explosion in the mid nineteenth century, and eventually rebuilt around 1940 by Italian occupiers, the mosaic floors from Kos are a central feature in this palace of medieval origin which has been a museum since the end of the second world war.

 Moved to the Palace of The Grand Master of The Knights of St John, 
this Byzantine floor is from Kos, thought to be the birthplace of Hippocratos.

A detail from the old testament floor mosaic at The Cathedral at Aquileia. The story of Jonah and the Whale is depicted in the pavement.  Dating from the 4th Century AD, the floor was only excavated in the early 1900s, discovered as often is the case beneath successive layers of flooring.

This geometric pattern is familiar to all of us, and seen in mosaic form at Delos.  

Tunisian floor mosaic depicting farm life, 4th Century at the Barda museum, Tunis.

From recent excavations of an ancient villa in Urfa (the ancient settlement of Edessa) Turkey, "Villa of the Amazons", a border detail of 5th/6th Century Byzantine mosaic unearthed during works.  Twelve rooms are paved in these mosaics.  Interestingly, just a few miles away is the oldest recorded site of Gobekli Temple, dated 9000 BC - with evidence of terazzo like floors, precursors of mosaics!

The border detail depicting the duck is pertinent to my family as we are nursing a wild duckling separated from its family.  Its current home is not nearly as elegant - a nesting box with heat lamp and a grass pen in the garden that resists all attempts at interior design and decoration!  
What a memento a floor like this would be of our time with Jerri the duck...