Dorset County Museum saves Dewlish mosaic

The internationally significant Roman mosaic of a leopard attacking a gazelle that was sold to a foreign buyer in 2020 and was at risk of export has been saved for the nation. After the Culture Minister imposed a temporary export bar last summer, the Dorset County Museum was able to raise £150,000 ($207,000), the price paid by the buyer, to acquire the mosaic.

The museum’s fundraising campaign achieved its goal thanks to grants from non-profits, trusts, heritage organizations and donations from the public. One large donation came from San Francisco financier Richard Beleson who went to elementary school in Britain and is a passionate supporter of keeping archaeological artifacts in as close to their original context as possible.

The leopard and gazelle mosaic was part of a large pavement in Room 11 of the Roman villa whose remains were found on the grounds of the 18th century stately mansion of Dewlish House in 1974. It dates to the second half of the 4th century and is a unique example of the Durnovarian (modern-day Dorchester) school of mosaicists. These were the top flight mosaicists in late Roman Britain.

Dewlish mosaic, 4th century A.D. Photo courtesy the Dorset County Museum.

Dr Clare Randall, archaeologist and Vice-Chairman of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society said: “We are delighted to be able to retain the Leopard and Gazelle mosaic from Dewlish villa within the area from which it originated. The mosaic is not only beautiful, and one of the finest examples of figure work from Roman Britain, but it is part of the story of the Dewlish villa and its inhabitants. There were people living in Roman Dorset with wealth, connections and exquisite artistic taste, and it is objects like this that give us a chance to glimpse their lives.”

The mosaic will go on public display with two other mosaics recovered from excavations of the Roman villa in Dewlish already in the collection of the Dorset County Museum. The museum is in the process of expansion and refurbishment and the mosaics will be installed in the new galleries scheduled to open later this year.

7 thoughts on “Dorset County Museum saves Dewlish mosaic

  1. Wonderful news! Since it can’t stay in the location it was in originally, having it in a museum nearby where people can see it is the best place for it.

  2. Great to see that the panther mosaic can stay in Dorset County.

    On a mission to ‘Britannia’ coming from Africa or the Levante, a ‘pantera’ mosaic (or possibly any other cat content) may have helped to feel at home.

    Maybe, the owner himself was called ‘Pantera’, like Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera from Judaea:

    Tib(erius) Iul(ius) Abdes Pantera
    Sidonia ann(orum) LXII
    stipen(diorum) XXXX miles exs
    coh(orte) I sagittariorum
    h(ic) s(itus) e(st)
    Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera
    from Lebanon, 62 years old,
    served for 40 years as soldier
    exs in the I. cohort of archers,
    he lies buried here.


    “…But let’s return now to where the Jew is introduced, speaking of the mother of Jesus, and saying that ‘when she was pregnant she was turned out of doors by the carpenter to whom she had been betrothed, as having been guilty of adultery, and that she bore a child to a certain soldier named Pantera’; and let us see whether those who have blindly concocted these fables about the adultery of the Virgin with Pantera, and her rejection by the carpenter, did not invent these stories to overturn His miraculous conception by the Holy Ghost…”

  3. “The Dewlish House mosaic fragment was acquired at Duke’s Auction in September 2018 by antiques dealer Edward Hurst for £30,000. He exhibited at the 2019 Masterpiece London art fair and appears to have resold it for a tidy profit as the export license request places its value at £135,000.”

    Do they know for a fact that Hurst had an actual buyer at £135,000? Maybe he could have sold it back for closer to the price he paid less than 3 years earlier.

  4. Absolutely no Briton can smile with relief at “Saved for the Nation!” and at the same time not believe that the Elgin marbles should be returned.

  5. Really? Ok. Let’s unpack that. Why stop at the Elgin Marbles? Let’s repatriate every item to its place of origin shall we? Your logic leads to a dark place I’m sorry to say.

  6. Yes, let’s unpack that Miles. If the British celebrate saving some low rent depiction of a rat-tailed leopard with blood dribbling out of it’s mouth and deny the Greek nation integral parts of of the Parthenon that everyone associates with the glory of Greece then you are right, we are driven to the dark worm hole that you live in.

  7. Tristam, try rewording that with ‘we’ instead of ‘the British’ and ‘you’, because as some religious book says, essentially: he who is without sin can cast the first stone.
    Many problems never get fixed, despite the vial shouting, because it is unjust vial shouting to conceal original guilt on both sides. For Greeks, say, to regain the Elgin marbles, first they must assess what they have ‘acquired’, because if they receive the Elgin marbles and have certain museums with stashes of African and South Sea goods then they will need to give them up on request.
    No one national glory is so great that it outshines others.
    Finally, others do not live in dark holes because they disagree with your opinion, and you do yourself, us and your cause no great service to suggest that they do.

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