Lecture 9

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Greek and Roman Mosaics and Painting

Instructor David Soren


                              Lecture 9: Recurring Motives in Mosaics

  1. The Role of Venus
  1. Can be Verticordia or Greek Aphrodite
  2. Punico-Syrian Venus- parallels with Astarte, Isis
  1. Nautical festivals with nude bathing in sacred pools- 2 guards, sacred pool
  2. Afros (foam)- Cypriote, symbol of rebirth and nurturing to vegetation
  3. Spring and the energy of nature- Adonis and the rose from his blood
  4. Victory over death- Adonis gardens
  5. Venus and Dionysus most accessible gods to mortals
  6. Best knucklebone throw is called Venus, dice numbered I, III, IV, VI and if throw different one 4 straight times it is Venus Throw ofTalus, and the worst is called Dog (Canis Throw).
  1. Magic
  1. Talisman belt in Homer, 2nd c. CE popularity vs. evil eye
  2. Her appearance on mosaic limen can be protection for house, room
  3. Cordium ilex in Apuleius- she possesses magic oak tablet
  4. Protector of infants in tombs- statuettes from tombs, apotropaic
  5. Verticordia- especially in bath structures
  6. Rose and jasmine- Rosalia in May brings roses to tomb
  1. Prosperity and abundance
  2. Power to revive the dead and cancel sorcery spells
  1. Nurturer of the Iulii and Augustus- Genetrix
  2. Centauresses- Mosaic of Elles- nature spirits of forest- ca. A.D. 300
    1. Polystefanus rationis archeus-
    2. Many-crowned is the power/force of reason
    3. Venus is an astral mistress, concept as well as goddess
    4. Centauresses rare- forest spirits, seasonal properties
    5. Venus is good fortune, victory over enemies and evil
    6. Symbol of power of nature


  1. Horses- Tertullian ca. 160 CE allegory of circus and our lives
  1. 4 factions- white (winter), red (summer), green (spring), blue (fall   


  1. 12 chariots doors parallel 12 zodiac signs
  2. Horses are often talismans, draw solar car, draw dead to sun.
  3. .Symbols of victory- even on Christian mosaics
  4. Horses are triumph symbols in circus of life with victors receiving palms



B.Mosaic of the Months- Thysdrus/El Djem- 3rd century

  1. Calendar of Roman Life in 16 squares done as Pseudo-Emblema
  2. September- Grapes prepared and stomped in harvest
  3. October- Figures salute star, possibly birth of Alexander Severus October 1, 208 CE, popular festival up to 4th century A.D., heralded by comet
  4. December- Saturnalia- return of the Golden Age, satyrs in loin cloths, Catullus’ favorite holiday, masters serve slaves, gambling permitted
  5. January- Compitalia for Lares, genius on socle with rhyton, presided over by magisti vici who dressed up for it
  6. Winter- aged and covered, rabbit, millet, two ducks
  7. November- Anubis with Isis finds Osiris’ body, wear Anubis masks, hold rattle
  8. Apriles- Veneralia- Venus Anadyomene in niche, men dress as women, carry roses and torches and dance before her image
  9. Junius- Fors Fortuna- 5 miles from Rome is sanctuary, bring onions, fennel, poppies, Servius Tullius founds sanctuary along Tiber, boats of drunken revelers
  10. Begins in March, traditional start of new year


C.Seasons  and Latefundia- Mosaic of Seigneur Julius from Carthage- 4th century

  1. Fortified farms of late antiquity- latefundia, loggia
  2. The Seasons-
  1. Left Bottom- spring roses
  2. Right bottom- autumn, basket of grapes, rabbit, orchard with quinces, apples, crane, dog   
  3. Winter- olives, ducks, warm clothes, goats
  4. Summer- wheat, shepherd with tied dog, mapalia
  1. The Four Seasons- proof of order and hope for afterlife, man and the cosmos
  2. Celestial bodies can affect character, soul, body, fortunes (Cicero and the stoics)
  3. The Great Hunt- main avocation of great landowners, tell tall tales, celebrate

it at the House of the Hunt, Utica, Tunisia

  1. Late Antique Figural Treatment-



                       Doll look

                       Overlarge hands, heads

                       Decline of plasticity

                       Decline of the Classical Ideal

                       Simplification of detail


D.Great Dermeche Hunt Mosaic- Carthage ca. A.D. 300

  1. Hunting Guilds- apparatores
  2. The Trip to Africa- lions, elephants, boars
  3. Hunting dogs
  4. Decoys




For a copy of the PowerPoint for the lecture click here