Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

Medieval aphrodisiacs, humors, fasting and a really old callback

Sunday, April 4th, 2021

More than 11 years ago when this blog was new (well… less old, at any rate), I wrote about medieval penitentials and the brilliant sex flowchart derived therefrom by University of Kansas history professor emeritus James A. Brundage for his seminal text Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe. It is still one of the most viewed posts in History Blog history.

Written by Irish monks starting in the 6th century, penitentials listed sins commonly encountered in confession and suggested suitable penances for each sin. They are remarkably explicit and specific in their descriptions of sinful sex acts, and the penances consistently prescribe rigorous fasting. A wide variety of sexual experiences — same-sex, extra-marital, marital but done at the wrong time, beastiality, masturbation — all earned the penitents years of fasting.

There was some discussion in the comments of what that level of fasting might entail. One comment from Mary clarified that a fasting penance in this context enjoined penitent sinners to abstain from certain kinds of food, not all food, mostly rich foods like meat and wine.

I was reminded of this exchange when watching the highly entertaining and illuminating webinar Love, Lust, and Libido: Aphrodisiacs in Medieval Europe hosted by food historian Ken Albala and Getty manuscripts curator Larisa Grollemond. Albala explanes the Humor Theory and how inextricably linked it was to food which was not just a menu but medicine. What foods you were allowed to eat while doing penance for sexual sins was determined by the humors, because some ingredients — ginger, meat, salt — stimulated libido/performance/fertility while others — spinach, beans, fruit — suppressed them. Grollemond adds some visual aids in the form of manuscript illuminations from the Getty’s collection. It is an impressively thorough and eminently watchable treatment of the question.

Also not to be missed are three videos of Albala making recipes mentioned in the webinar. That almond milk creamed spinach from 1420 looks pretty great to me, especially if you add the garlic the author warned against as it is known to inflame lust.


Getty acquires rediscovered Artemisia Gentileschi Lucretia

Wednesday, March 31st, 2021

The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles is the proud new owner of a previously unknown painting by trailblazing Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi. It depicts the Roman heroine Lucretia in the moment before she plunges a dagger into her heart. Lucretia, raped by the son of Tarquin, king of Rome, demanded her relatives avenge her honor, then killed herself in front of them. Her act spurred the tyrannicide of Tarquin by Lucius Junius Brutus and the founding of the Roman Republic.

The painting is in exceptional condition, small details like the tears welling up in Lucretia’s eyes still clear and untouched by the passage of centuries, poor storage conditions or misguided restoration attempts. It’s rare for a Baroque era painting to survive in such a pristine state of preservation.

Lucretia first surfaced in 2019 when it was sold at a Paris auction. The sellers had bought it in Cannes in the 1980s and kept it in their Lyon home for 40 years, unpublished and unknown. There are only about 60 known paintings that can be attributed to Artemisia Gentileschi, and a good half of them cannot be conclusively authenticated as works of her hand, so her paintings are very highly coveted the rare times they come up for auction.  Surprisingly absolutely nobody, the rediscovered work blew past the risibly low presale estimate (€600,000 – €800,000) and sold for €4,777,000 ($5.3 million), including the buyer’s premium and taxes.

The auction experts dated it to between 1630 and 1635, the late part of her career when she lived in Naples. Lucretia’s suicide was a subject she returned to repeatedly in her career. Another from the early years of her life Naples sold at auction in 2018 for $2.2 million. The earliest known Lucretia was painted around 1623-5 when Artemisia lived in Rome. It is now in the private collection of paisley mogul Gerolamo Etro in Milan.

The Getty’s research indicates the rediscovered Lucretia likely predates her Naples sojourn and was made around 1627 when Artemisia lived in Venice.

There is evidence that Artemisia painted this Lucretia during her time in Venice in the late 1620s. With its swirling and exuberant drapery, and its free brushstrokes, the picture shows the profound engagement with the artistic legacy of 16th-century Venetian painting, especially with the female protagonists of paintings by Titian and Veronese. The painting also reflects Artemisia’s close contact with expatriates active in Venice in the 1620s, such as the French Nicolas Régnier, the German Johann Liss, and the Genoese Bernardo Strozzi.

In 1627, a pamphlet was printed containing a number of poems dedicated to four of Artemisia’s paintings executed in Venice: two on a self-portrait, one each on a Susanna and a Sleeping Cupid, and three on a Lucretia. The author was likely Giovanni Francesco Loredan, one of a close-knit group of writers, artists, musicians, librettists, and patrons who were associated with Artemisia during her Venetian sojourn. It is highly probable that the Getty’s Lucretia is the same painting praised in the poems published in Venice in 1627.

“With the discovery of new documents and the emergence of new paintings, our understanding of Artemisia’s art has become much more complex and nuanced in the last 20 years. This recently rediscovered work sheds a new light on a crucial and hitherto overlooked moment of her career, when the painter is transitioning from the Caravaggism that had been the hallmark of her formative years to a more graceful and idealized manner which will characterize her maturity,” said Davide Gasparotto, senior curator of paintings at the Getty Museum. “Lucretia is a powerful and compelling example of Artemisia’s most significant type of subject, the representation of dynamic female figures which appear in control of their own destiny; but with its lyrical and sophisticated expressivity, its creamy impasto and vibrant brushwork, the painting is also suggestive of new directions in her artistic itinerary”.

The Getty is currently closed due to you know what, but it is expected to reopen in the next few weeks. Lucretia will be on display to welcome visitors when it does.


New virtual tours of 8 Rome museums

Saturday, March 20th, 2021

Eight of Rome’s civic museums are offering new virtual tours. Available in Italian and English, to tours allow visitors to explore the museums floor-by-floor, in aerial views, through video, audio and information panels.

It’s a curated approach. Select objects on display and important features of the museums themselves are highlighted. You navigate by clicking on arrows, then click on hotspots targeting an object or area and the label/information pops up. If there is video or audio, clickable icons appear on the screen.  You can also bounce around using the map icon in the bottom right. It’s a little awkward to navigate and it’s not the kind of virtual tour that allows you to browse objects on display for hours because even when the collections are huge like the ones in Capitoline very few pieces are hotspots. It’s more about moving through some extremely cool spaces and seeing some celebrated pieces.

This is most effective for the smaller museums, particularly the Museo delle Mura and the Ara Pacis because the collection is comparatively sparse and the structure itself is the focus of the tour. The reliefs of the Ara Pacis are so complex, being able to zoom in on an area virtually and read detailed explanations is very satisfying. The Museo delle Mura was one of my favorite discoveries on my 2018 Rome trip and the best part was getting to clamber through the walls. The virtual tour gives you even more of that unbelievable view from the roof of the Porta Appia and connected defensive walls.

Here are the new virtual tours:

Musei Capitolini
Museo dell’Ara Pacis
Museo Napoleonico
Mercati di Traiano – Museo dei Fori Imperiali
Casino Nobile di Villa Torlonia
Centrale Montemartini
Museo delle Mura
Museo di Roma


Almost-looted medieval treasure goes on display

Wednesday, March 17th, 2021

An exceptional hoard of 10th century jewelry that almost disappeared into the penumbra of online antiquities trafficking has gone on display for the first time at the Archaeological Museum of Córdoba. Its existence was only suspected last year when a local archaeologist saw photographs of some of the pieces for sale on social media and notified the National Police. The treasure was ostensibly discovered on La Amarguilla, a farm in the Andalusian town of Baena, southeast of Córdoba, but the story is self-serving with many glaring omissions.

According to the experts consulted, the treasure was buried inside a bag or a ceramic container in the ground. Indeed, all of the pieces were stained by soil, indicating the treasure had been dug up only recently. The police investigation took place in the Córdoba municipalities of Lucena, Luque and Baena, where the treasure was finally found in an industrial warehouse. The person who had it in their possession took the police to an estate in Baena where they claimed to have found it.

However, the individual’s explanations regarding the original site of the buried treasure reportedly failed to convince archaeologists and consequently, no excavation has been undertaken to determine whether other elements are still to be discovered there.

This is the 16th known jewelry hoard found in Andalusia and it stands out among them for the quality, quantity and rarity of its pieces. The Amarguilla Treasure is comprised of 623 jewels, beads and gems. There are 98 pieces of jewelry made of precious metal — gold, silver or gilt silver — of an unusual variety of designs. There are pendants, bracelets, hairpins, dress ornaments, rings of caliphal type, chains and broken necklaces. A large group of beads and pearls found in the hoard were originally part of the necklaces or bracelets. There are 17 hard stone (mostly quartz and rock crystal) beads, four cylindrical pink coral beads, 36 glass beads of different colors and 476 river seed pearls. No other documented Andalusian jewelry hoard contains any seed pearls.

Among the notable pieces are two intricate gold filigree pendants, one in a circular, one in a bell shape. Circular examples have been found before in hoards. The bell-shaped one is unique on the archaeological record. The greatest standout jewels are a circular pendant with the Star of David inside and two bangles, one silver, one gilt, with animal head terminals. The Star of David pendant is made with a filigree so delicate and precise that required great technical virtuosity from the goldsmith. It is unique; there is no other piece like it extant. The bangles are made of four twisted tubes silver with four threads twisted between them. The terminals are serpent heads constructed with very fine granulation.

The style of the jewels dates them to the 10th century. It was likely buried in the beginning of the 11th century during the upheaval of the civil war that broke out in 1009 and would drag on for two decades and ultimately bring about the demise of the Caliphate of Córdoba. The other Andalusian hoards also include coins that made it possible to pin down the latest possible date they were buried. That this hoard does not strongly suggests they were surreptitiously sold before authorities got wind of the discovery. Coins are more common, making them easy to move because people don’t ask a lot of questions when they emerge on the market. The jewelry is extremely rare and much harder to sell without arousing suspicions, which is exactly how the Amarguilla treasure came to light in the first place.

The Jewels of Amarguilla exhibition is temporary, running through June 6, 2021, but the treasure will go on permanent display at the museum.


Nemi ship mosaic/coffee table goes on display

Saturday, March 13th, 2021

A section of mosaic flooring from one of the Nemi Roman ships, lavish floating palaces built by the profligate Emperor Caligula, that for decades was used a coffee table by a couple in New York City has gone on permanent display at the Museum of Roman Ships in Nemi. Antique dealer Helen Fioratti and her husband Nereo acquired the opus sectile mosaic in Italy in the 1960s. The broker claimed it had belonged to the noble Barberini family, but there was no ownership record. The Fiorattis had it mounted in a marble frame and put it on a pedestal in their living room where it served as coffee table and much-admired conversation piece in their Park Avenue apartment for 40 years.

Its secret identity was first rediscovered in 2013 when Dario Del Bufalo, an expert in ancient marbles and author of several books on the subject, was in Manhattan for a book signing. His book on porphyry included an old photograph of the mosaic, which has unusual circular tiles made of the precious dark red marble. He was able to authenticate the panel as one of the luxurious decorations salvaged from the ships thanks to those circles of porphyry and a crack that had been restored. The museum that housed the Nemi ships burned down in 1944 in a battle between Allied forces and the Nazi troops occupying the museum. The hulls of the ships, raised in an arduous lake-draining operation the late 1920s and early 30s, were destroyed in the fire, an incalculable loss, as were many of its salvaged parts.

The mosaic was not in the museum at the time. It was removed before 1944 eventually, nobody knows how, wound up in an antiques shop in Rome couple of decades later. After a four-year investigation, the mosaic was seized by the Manhattan DA’s office and returned to the Italian consulate in October 2017. It has been displayed at temporary exhibits in Italy since its repatriation, but now has a permanent home with the other rare surviving artifacts from Caligula’s great floating palaces.

Lake Nemi was sacred to the goddess Diana. She was worshipped in a sacred grove on its slopes as far back as the 6th century B.C., and the Temple of Diana Nemorensis was built on the north shore around 300 B.C. By the time of Caligula, it was a popular pilgrimage site. By Roman law, no ship could sail on sacred waters. Caligula probably complied with the letter of the law by keeping them mostly anchored. He also built temples on board — both ships had rotating statue platforms believed to have been used for cult figures — which gave him another loophole to the no sailing on sacred waters law. As a devotee of Isis who was syncretically identified with Diana, he likely used his superyachts on her sacred lake to throw lavish parties for religious festivals like the Isidis Navigium, an annual celebration invoking the protection of Isis on sailors at the opening of the navigation season on March 5th.

Despite being built to the exacting standards of Roman seagoing vessels — their hulls were clad in lead sheets to prevent the depredations of shipworms which do not live in freshwater lakes and both ships were equipped with long steering oars — Caligula’s barges couldn’t have done much sailing on the lake even if hadn’t been a sacrilege to do so. Nemi is a small, roughly circular lake formed from the crater of an extinct volcano. Its average width is 1 kilometer. The barges were 73 x 24 meters and 70 x 20 meters, so it only would have taken a voyage of 14 ship lengths to cross its full width. They were lake palaces, not a means of transport, and if they left the shore at all, they were at most rowed (in the case of the smaller boat) and/or towed (the larger had no means of propulsion) to the center of the lake.

Suetonius cites Caligula’s opulent taste in ships as an example of his profligacy in The Lives of the Twelve Caesars:

He built two ships with ten banks of oars, after the Liburnian fashion, the poops of which blazed with jewels, and the sails were of various parti-colours. They were fitted up with ample baths, galleries, and saloons, and supplied with a great variety of vines and other fruit-trees. In these he would sail in the day-time along the coast of Campania, feasting amidst dancing and concerts of music.

The Nemi ships had the same luxurious decorations and amenities, even though they had nowhere to go, as attested to by the floor mosaic which is of highest quality in materials and craftsmanship. 

Today the museum houses 1/5th scale replicas of the ships, although last summer the mayor of Nemi was making noises about asking Germany to fund full-scale replicas by way of reparations. The problem with that notion is that there is no direct evidence that the Nazis burned the ships. Allied planes bombed the museum striking at the German anti-aircraft artillery nest which was deliberately installed there in the hope that priceless archaeological patrimony would act as a shield. The bomb drop did minimal damage to the exterior of the museum, and hours later museum staffers saw Nazi occupiers with torches walking around inside just before the fire broke out the night of May 31st. The Germans cleared out that night. US ground troops arrived four days later. 

Here’s a silent but deadly (in a good way) British Pathé newsreel documenting the exposure of one of the ships in 1930.


Stolen 16th c. armor returned to Louvre

Friday, March 5th, 2021

Two pieces of opulent 16th century armor stolen from the Louvre almost four decades ago have been recovered. Bequeathed to France by Baroness Adèle Von Rothschild in 1922, the helmet and backplate were stolen from the Paris museum the night of May 31st, 1983. The circumstances of the theft have never been explained, and there was no trace of the pair until earlier this year.

A military antiques expert alerted police after being called in to give advice regarding an inheritance in Bordeaux in January and becoming suspicious about the luxurious helmet and body armour in the family’s collection.

Police officers from the Central Office for the Fight Against Trafficking in Cultural Goods looked up the helmet and cuirass back piece in TREIMA, France’s national database of stolen cultural property, and confirmed that they were the objects stolen from the Louvre 38 years ago. Bordeaux prosecutors are now investigating how they came into the possession of the family.

The two pieces are made of iron damascened with gold and silver relief decorations including nudes, floral swags, grotesques and a mounted warrior on a rearing horse in the foreground of an architectural cityscape. They were part of a complete set of ornamental armor made in Milan between 1560 and 1580. They were luxury goods, not practical protective devices, used by the elite for ceremonial purposes or parades.

The helmet is of the burgonet type, named the Duchy of Burgundy where the design originated. It is characterized by a rounded dome with a peak above the face opening a crest running from just above the peak to the back of the head. It was lightweight compared to the close helmets and did not obscure the wearer’s vision.

“I was certain we would see them reappear one day because they are such singular objects. But I could never have imagined that it would work out so well — that they would be in France and still together,” said Philippe Malgouyres, the Louvre’s head of heritage artworks.

The recovered armor will go on display in the Objets d’Art rooms in the Richelieu wing of the Louvre after the museum reopens.


Longest longship installed in Copenhagen museum

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2021

The world’s longest Viking longship, the Roskilde 6, is being installed for a new exhibition at the National Museum in Copenhagen that starts June 25th. The Roskilde 6 has been traveling for years, touring Germany, England, Canada and the US. Last Friday it arrived packed in 27 boxes and curators have been piecing it back together.

At 37.4 meters (123 feet) long, twice the length of Columbus’ flagship La Santa Maria, it is the longest Viking ship ever discovered. The keel alone is 32 meters (105 feet) long, the longest keel ever found on a Viking ship. It was 13 feet wide at the widest point and had a shallow draught of just 33 inches.

Roskilde 6 was discovered in February 1997 by workers dredging the Roskilde harbor before construction of an extension to the Viking Ship Museum. Nine shipwrecks from the late Viking and early Medieval periods were discovered at the site. Roskilde 6 had been dragged into the shallows and partially dismantled along with a half dozen ships to serve as defensive barriers in the harbor of Roskilde Fjord.

Today about 20-25% of the longship survives, the timbers preserved for centuries in the waterlogged mud of the fjord’s shoreline. Dendrochronological analysis indicates the ship was built after 1025, and the type of oak points to it having been built not in Denmark but in Norway, near Oslo. It was in active use for at least 15 years, as there is evidence of repairs using timber felled from the Baltic area in 1039.

Roskilde 6 was an ocean-going warship, not a ceremonial one like many of the ship burials which were built solely for funerary purposes, and the high quality of its materials and workmanship points to it having been part of the royal fleet. Its large size required adaptations to ensure it would be flexible enough to navigate the choppy water. The keel was actually made of three parts connected by long scarves. The planks of its hull were barely more than an inch thick, which made it comparatively light in weight for its length.  The floor planks were riveted together and half-frames placed on top of them. The keelson, of which a 10-foot section has survived, was fastened to the hull with meticulously carved horizontal double knees.

The ribs over the hull at regular interviews correspond to where the thwarts (the rowing benches the oarsmen sat on) were placed, making it possible to calculate the full length of the warship and the size of its crew. Early Viking ships were small, fitting crews of 40 men. This one had a crew of 100, 80 rowers, two men per oar.

The preserved timbers have been mounted on a steel skeleton to give visitors a realistic view of its impression dimensions when it was intact.


Munch wrote The Scream was “painted by a madman” on The Scream

Monday, February 22nd, 2021

A graffito in the orange sky of Edvard Munch’s first version of The Scream declaring it “Can only have been painted by a madman” has been identified as an addition by the artist himself. Painted in 1893, The Scream was on display in Copenhagen in 1904 when the handwritten line was first noticed by a Danish art critic. He assumed one of the visitors to the exhibition had written his disapproval of the maker on the work. Later art historians posited that Munch was the author, but scholars as recently as 2008 have disputed that he was the writer of the inscription.

Experts at the National Museum of Norway have taken advantage of the closure of the museum during renovations to conserve and study The Scream. Examination under a microscope confirmed that the pencil lines were written on top of the dried paint after the painting was finished, but the inscription is faint and hard to read. Photographed in infrared, however, the carbon from the pencil graphite stands out from the brightly painted background making detailed handwriting analysis possible. The analysis left no doubt that Munch authored the inscription.

It was likely written around two years after he made the painting. Munch exhibited The Scream in Norway in October 1895. By then it had already been seen in several other countries, but this was the first exhibition of the work for the Norwegian public. It did not go well. One art critic wrote that The Scream showed that Munch was not “a serious man with a normal brain.”

There was much buzz about the subject of the painting being Munch himself screaming in his madness. Speculation on his mental state was rife a discussion of the exhibition at the Students Association in Kristiania. One medical student, Johan Scharffenberg, armchair diagnosed Munch as insane based on his work. Munch followed all this chatter and it troubled him deeply.

“We know that he we was very upset when critics of his work questioned his sanity and called his paintings a disgrace,” National Museum curator Mai Britt Guleng told ARTnews. “Mental illness was a sore point for Munch because there was a history of mental illness in his close family.”

Both Munch’s father and sister suffered bouts of depression, and the latter was also diagnosed with schizophrenia. By his own admission, Munch had neither a happy childhood nor a smooth adult life. “Disease, insanity, and death were the angels that attended my cradle, and since then have followed me throughout my life,” he once wrote. Exacerbated by his alcoholism, Munch was finally hospitalized after a nervous breakdown in 1908.

He explicitly wrestled with depression, loss, and anxiety in his paintings, which often featured phantoms of lost love and family. According to a diary entry, Munch conceived of The Scream while walking out at sunset in Kristiania where, upon viewing the blood red clouds, he sensed an “infinite scream passing through nature.”

Guleng believes the inscription was added after the Kristiania discussion, so late 1895 or early 1896. His intent in writing it can’t be scried with infrared. It could have been an ironic statement spurred by all the critics calling him crazy, or an impulsive reaction to his own concerns that they might be right.

The Scream will be back on public display when the new National Museum opens in 2022, alongside Self-Portrait with Cigarette, the painting that Scharffenberg presented as proof that Munch was not of sound mind.


Exceptionally rare Chinese bowl found in Dresden museum

Sunday, February 14th, 2021

A small porcelain bowl in the collection of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD) has been newly identified as an extremely rare piece produced by the Ru kilns of the Northern Song Dynasty  (960–1127). Ru ware is the rarest of all Chinese ceramic types; this is only the 88th example of Ru pottery known in the world.

Ru was the official ware of the Northern Song dynasty. These were some of the first ceramics produced exclusively for the imperial court. It operated uniquely small kilns (no more than 6.5 feet in diameter) and production was limited because all pieces were fired individually rather than stacked and were perched on stilts. They were also fired twice, greatly increasing the odds that of failure. The Ru kilns were only in production for 20 years. The rapid decline of the late Northern Song made the Ru works a flash in the pan, but their rarity and quality exerted a massive cultural influence that has only strengthened over the centuries. Today Ru ware is revered as the pinnacle of Chinese imperial ceramic.

Five inches in diameter, the shallow bowl has rounded sides and stands on a narrow curving foot. It is a brush washer, the most popular surviving form of Ru porcelain with 34 of them known, including this one. Its translucent green-blue glaze is crazed with a pattern known as ice crackle. Ru ware was the first Chinese ceramic to embrace the faceted reflectivity of crazing as an asset. The effect is caused by the body and glaze contracting at different rates and it cannot be controlled.

The brush washer was acquired by German doctor and avid collector of Chinese porcelain Oscar Rücker-Embden when he was in China in 1913-4. He sold it to Ernst Albert Zimmermann, director of the Porzellansammlung, in 1927. While Zimmermann was a top expert on East Asian porcelain at the time, the bowl was believed to be a Korean work from the 10th-13th centuries which have very similar features and are far less rare than Ru ceramics.

The bowl’s true identity was discovered during an exhaustive inventory of East Asian porcelains at the Porzellansammlung, the SKD’s porcelain collection. An international team of experts was enlisted to study the collection, and in 2018, staff from the Palace Museum in Beijing alerted the SKD that their “Korean” bowl might actually be a Ru piece. That has now been confirmed by Regina Krahl, one of the world’s foremost experts in Ru ware. That makes this one little bowl worth something north of $40 million. An almost identical Ru brush washer sold at Sotheby’s for $37.7 million in 2017.

Julia Weber, director of the Porzellansammlung: “Of course, we knew that there are precious treasures to be found in Dresden’s Porzellansammlung, some of them little-known. But the fact that they include one of these legendary Ru ceramics is a real sensation. The bowl is one of the very first ceramics to be made exclusively for the Chinese imperial court more than 900 years ago. As the Song dynasty was driven into the south of China by invaders shortly afterwards, Ru ceramics already became a mythologised memento of an idealised lost past immediately after their creation. To this day they are considered icons of Chinese culture, though their extreme rarity means that few have the chance to admire an original, let alone own one. This history-steeped little bowl is very much at home in Dresden, where Augustus the Strong assembled the largest collection of Chinese porcelain outside Asia.”


Dorset County Museum saves Dewlish mosaic

Thursday, February 11th, 2021

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.





April 2021


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