Mosaic with a market scene
Period: 2nd-3rd century A.D.
Material: Stone and glass paste tesserae
Dimensions: 314 x 320 cm
Ex-Lebanese private collection, Beirut-Paris, acquired in 1982; the mosaic was stored in London until 1999; then acquired on the Swiss art market in January 2000.
Conditions: Virtually intact and in excellent condition. Some breaks and possible restorations. Wide range of colors obtained by the use of various types of stone and glass paste.
This mosaic displays a rich polychromatic decoration with a large variety of tesserae, ranging from beige-white to reddish-brown colours, including yellow, green, gray and black. Small cracks reveal the structure of the ground on which the tesserae were assembled (brownish coating).
The rich and abundant colors used here allowed the mosaicist to play with various shades and gradations of tones and to achieve a highly detailed and deep, almost three-dimensional rendering of the figural elements represented in the mosaic.
The central ornamentation shows a market scene. Eight male figures of different ages, each dressed in a short tunic or in a toga, are positioned harmoniously on all four sides of the square central panel. Each carries or presents a different product: a hare, a young wild boar, a deer, a brace of pheasants, a kid goat, a rooster and a hen, a brace of partridges, fruit and/or buns in baskets.
All these elements embody products offered by Mother Earth, whose personification is symbolized at the center of the mosaic through a female face. Together with the theme, the inscription in ancient Greek can leave no doubt about her identification: Gh.
One should note the special attention paid by the mosaicist to the diverse elements represented in the scene, from the realistic details of the faces to the folds of the garments. Equally, one may admire the differing skin pigments of the figures. Even shadows can be seen on the floor behind the figures.
As for the outer border, it is strongly emphasized by a plant pattern composed of flowers and fruit in a dense green foliage. Small winged erotes, each armed with a bow and arrow, are depicted on each of the four sides of the mosaic. They hunt a variety of prey, such as peacock, partridge, deer, panther and even lion (one is already wounded by an arrow shot by one of the erotes).
In the corners, the traditional faces and masks are present; two men and, perhaps, two women are featured in opposite corners. Their plant-like hair fits perfectly into the thematic framework of the mosaic, representing pastoral divinities.
The very large size, the theme (a genre scene) and the technique of this mosaic suggest that it was produced in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. Large-scale figural representations are actually typically Levantine productions. Our example probably decorated a private residence and would have been specially commissioned by the owners, because mythological scenes were much more common than daily life representations.
CIMOK F., Antioch Mosaics: A Corpus, Istanbul, 2000, pp. 150 (Eros hunting), 201 (head in a plant composition), 277 (personification of Mother Earth), 297 (various animals) and 306-307 (birds and quadrupeds in a plant composition).
DUNBABIN K.M.D., Mosaics of the Greek and Roman World, Cambridge, 1999.
LEVI D., Antioch Mosaic Pavements, Princeton, 1947.