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.