Panel from a mosaic showing a lion and cupids

Roman, about 70-10 BC
From Naples, Italy

The central point of an plain floor

The scene shows a bound lion taunted by four cupids. In the foreground one pulls a rope attached to the lion's hind leg, while the one in the top right corner waves a cloth like a bull-fighter. On the hill in the background stands Bacchus, god of wine. The panel is an emblema, a decorative element designed to be the central point of an otherwise plain floor or wall. The emblema was originally an import from the Hellenistic eastern Mediterranean, where, especially in cities such as Pergamon (Pergamum), Ephesos and Alexandria, there were artists specializing in their production. One such was Sosus of Pergamum, who worked in the second century AD.

Emblemata were usually much more finely worked than ordinary mosaics, achieving a degree of detail, perspective and shading more akin to the subtleties of painting. This was achieved through the use of very small tesserae (the cubes of stone or glass of which mosaics are made) in a technique called opus vermiculatum.

As with sculpture, several copies were usually made of the same emblema, and other examples of this scene can now be found in the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome and the National Archaeological Museum, Naples. A wall-mounted piece by Sosus, which showed doves drinking from an ornate bowl, was widely copied in antiquity. The workmanship was said to be so perfect that real doves flew against the mosaic in a vain attempt to join their stone companions.

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More information

Bibliography

S. Walker, Roman art (London, 1991)

Dimensions

Length: 37.700 cm
Height: 37.200 cm

Museum number

GR 1856.12-13.5 (Mosaic 1)

GAA1130

Location

Find in the collection online


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