While researching the conservation
of the Antioch mosaics, I came across a very interesting case regarding a mosaic
placed in the threshold of the Architecture Laboratory at Princeton University.
Princeton was part of the excavation team that also included members from the
Worcester Art Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, Harvard Art Museums, and
Dumbarton Oaks. Around 300 ancient Roman floor mosaics were uncovered, and Princeton
received a part of the find.
process during excavation itself was extremely destructive. The mosaic was first
stabilized with interior losses filled with cement and the surfaced was faced
with animal glue and cloth. Then the bedding mortar was then disrupted while digging
around the mosaic. Blocks were added for structural support. The backing mortar
was then removed. A wooden frame was constructed to place iron rebar bars for
stabilization, and the back was filled with cement for structural stability.
was rediscovered in 2011 in the vestibule of the Architecture Laboratory where
it has been since 1949. It was installed here as part of the renovation of the
building and had not been moved after. Being outdoors, the exposure of the
mosaic to the elements has left it in poor shape. The conservator working with Princeton
was Leslie Gat. The panel was part of a border of a larger piece that was
excavated near the House of Phoenix (DH-256 Dig C). The mosaic consists of
three heads, the heads on the corner are female and according to Princeton
University they think they are possibly masks of maenads. The goal for the
conservation was to lift the mosaic out of the ground successfully without inflicting
further damage so that work could be done in the conservation studio.
curb was removed and revealed that the mosaic was about two inches of concrete
thick. Steel slides and Teflon sheets were installed to go under the mosaic to
aid with transport onto the pallet where it was strapped down.
The rebar in the cement corroded and expanded which cased many of the tesserae to be damaged and knocked off. When in the ground, areas that were lifting were covered with cement, which left areas of tough concrete. In areas where it was feasible, the cement was removed where tesserae were found underneath and reinstalled. A plaster fill was then used to cover the empty spaces left by the cement. After, conservation was completed it was reinstalled in one of Princeton University’s buildings.
workstreams on the project have been impacted by increasing measures put in
place to stop the spread of coronavirus. Social distancing and travel restrictions
have caused numerous public spaces to close as well as schools, universities,
and workplaces. Museums have also been impacted by these initiatives which, ultimately,
halts any in person interaction with art (and for our purposes the Antioch mosaics).
It will also be interesting to see how museums and other art institutions adapt
to a more virtual world. Where art museums were mostly a place of physical
gathering to exhibit pieces, they must now create ways for visitors to interact
digitally. There is also the looming question of how this pandemic will impact funding
and focus on the humanities.
I had to leave campus, I was able to meet with Angela Elliot at the Walters Art
Museum. She is a conservator at the museum and had previously worked at the BMA
with the Antioch mosaics. It was interesting to discuss her thoughts on the
impact of coronavirus on museum visitation (this was before more strict
measures regarding public gatherings were put in place).
It was helpful
to gain insight on the day to day work of a conservator and the roles they have
within the museum. Mosaics themselves
are stable structures, however conservation projects are expensive. The size and
weight of the Antioch mosaics make relocation difficult so they will most likely
stay stagnant at the BMA.
My current workstream is going to lead me to investigating past conservation work done on the mosaics. I have been digitally tracking conservation efforts done to the Antioch Mosaic in order to possibly document the work done on them. It is important to know the decisions conservators have made and the possible impact they have on the viewers’ experience with the mosaics.
In my initial post on this subject, I finished by constructing a test house in SketchUp, and importing that into a basic Unity game, with typical FPS (first person shooter) style controls- moving with WASD, jumping with space, and looking around with a mouse. Since then, the project has advanced in both of those ways: the house and the game.
As the entire purpose of this project is to allow the viewer to experience an ancient house and their mosaics, recreating a real ancient house is of utmost importance. However, as no ancient Antioch houses exist beyond their floorplans, any recreation needed to be based on a floorplan recorded by the original expedition. Additionally, not many houses had their mosaics’ positions recorded, so only those few houses can be recreated for our purposes. Finally, several of those specific houses have already been recreated by other scholars in this field, so those couldn’t/shouldn’t be made either. After all of these requirements, one house was found: The House of Menander. The floorplan with the mosaics in place was found in The Fate of Antioch Mosaic Pavements: Some Reflections by Claudia Barsanti in Journal of Mosaic Research 5.
The first step of recreation was to as accurately as possible recreate the floor plan in SketchUp. This was done by taking a screenshot of the floor plan and opening it up in GIMP. Then using the Measure Tool, I measured the length (in pixels) and angle of each individual line segment on the floor plan, and in SketchUp, drew a line segment of the correct length using the Line Tool, and then rotated it to the proper rotation using the Rotate Tool. While this wasn’t completely accurate, I attempted to get within 1-2 pixel accuracy, and within .1˚ accuracy.
Once this was done, I turned the project over to Marina to build the floor plan into an actual house so I could focus more on the house viewing program, which I will discuss in my next blog post.
This blog piggybacks on Jen’s post of the video of the two newest excavated houses in Pompeii and Greg’s earlier post about Dobbins and Gruber’s digital reconstructions, including The House of the Faun at Pompeii. In this blog, I will share some of my experiences from the summer when I worked as a classicist with a team of mostly architects to create digital reconstructions of rooms in the Villa Ariana, in Stabiae–outside of Pompeii. We were working for Italy’s Restoring Ancient Stabiae Foundation. Here is a recreation of the seaside villa prior to its destruction by Vesuvius:
Our purpose was to document the interior for future
generations. Unfortunately, our villa is falling off its precarious site atop a
cliff. At one time that cliff overlooked the Bay of Naples, about four miles
south- east of Pompeii. Some of you may
remember that Stabiae was where Pliny the Elder died during the volcano’s
I was assigned Room 7 and specifically the west
wall. First we started with old-school
scale drawings and orthographic drawings.
Here is a photograph I took of my wall with a digital camera:
Then we incorporated technologies such as Lidar, total station and EDM. Here is the Lidar reconstruction of my wall in the room:
At the time, our goal was more preservation than
recontextualizing. Thinking back, many
of the mosaics were already removed and are displayed in the MANN, the National
Archaeological Museum in Naples.
Surviving examples of the mosaics show decorations of geometric design,
similar to some in Antioch. Pompeii’s
mosaics tended to be less elaborate than Antioch’s, because Antioch was
richer. Pompeii’s spectacular Alexander
the Great mosaic that Greg mentioned, was an exception. (The original of that, is
also in the MANN and a copy is in Pompeii.) Because Antioch was situated on the
western end of the Silk Road, it was probably richer than the whole Bay of
Naples area, combined.
As my photo shows, the Villa Arianna is best known for its
decorative frescos, so typical of elite Roman Villas. Perhaps you will
recognize this one—one of four depicting the four seasons.
As Maya and I begin uploading our information about the present-day locations of the Antioch mosaics into ArcGIS in our efforts to map their distribution, I was struck by a seemingly simple question I had previously not considered: How does one count mosaics? I do not mean counting in the more abstract and philosophical sense, as what does and does not count as a mosaic. But instead, counting in the more literal and rather mundane sense of how does one physically count (1,2,3, and so on) mosaics and their many fragments (themselves, comprised of thousands of tiny tesserae, but that is perhaps a more philosophical conversation better reserved for another post).
My question developed from the third phase of Maya’s and my project. As Maya detailed in her previous blogpost, we developed a three-phase plan for our mapping of mosaics onto ArcGIS. We completed our first phase of compiling a detailed spreadsheet of all (known) museums and locations currently housing Antioch mosaics. Now, we are in our second and third phases of visually adjusting the map and adding external details like images, links to museum websites, the houses represented in the collection, and potentially including the number of mosaics housed in each collection.
A draft of our ArcGIS distribution map with all the known locations of the mosaics. I am continuing to track down the mosaic, presumably still in Cuba, to add to our map. In the meantime, we have also considered tentatively adding its location and noting efforts for its ongoing search.
When you click on a location, information about the mosaics at this particular location will pop up. While this is just a rough draft, Maya and I are adding external media like links to museum collections as well as images and other information to make it more accessible and user-friendly. We expect to complete our map shortly, but also recognize that it is a living document of sorts, to be updated as new information arises. For example, this mosaic depicting Metiochos and Parthenope, characters from an ancient Greek novel, was sold by Worcester Art Museum to Brummer Gallery, an auction house, in New York. The mosaic was in a 1949 auction by Brummer Gallery, and according to this catalog was sold to Franz Kleinberger Gallery. Much more digging is needed to find its present-day location.
As I began to compile the number of mosaics housed in each collection, I entered a dizzying, and perhaps, more fittingly, a vertiginous world of fragments and the somewhat futile task of trying to take inventory and count them.
Take this fragment of a mosaic depicting theater masks from the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. According to this 1981 article, it is counted as two separate pieces–A and B–that comprise one whole.
Screenshot from Frances F. Jones, “Antioch Mosaics in Princeton,” Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University 40, no. 2 (1981): 19.
However, in the collection, the disparate parts are united, and it is pictured (and cataloged) as one mosaic.
Fragment of a floor mosaic, 3rd Century CE, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut, 73 x 48 inches.
This brief discussion and the problems that arise thus returns me to the question I posed in the beginning. How then, is one supposed to count these mosaics? The problem with counting is in no way limited to the above example. In some of the mosaics I have encountered, there are sometimes eight or more fragments that comprise the entire mosaic. In some cases, they are consolidated as one object on the online collection. In other cases, the fragments are counted separately.
My brief foray into counting the mosaics and their fragments quickly devolved into a lesson and perhaps, even a cautionary tale. Due to the complexities of counting the fragments and as a matter of practicality, we will likely no longer include how many mosaics are located in each museum collection on our map. However, it is still very much worth dwelling on the seemingly simple, but deceptively complex question: How does one count mosaics? Or, indeed, any fragment for that matter?
The BMA’s Antioch mosaics like the “Bird Rinceau” and the “Striding Lion” feature fish, a lion, gazelles and birds, including peacocks.
This blog focuses on the bird theme and particularly the latter fowl, and looks at how the geopolitics of the region allowed this exotic bird to become depicted in the art of Antioch. My earlier blog traced the arrival of Alexander the Great in the early geopolitics of what became Antioch. Upon his death, his empire was carved up and the largest piece included Syria and Mesopotamia. Antioch was built as the new capital in what was then the Seleucid Empire. Eventually Antioch became part of the Roman Republic and then the Roman Empire.
Scholar P. Thankappan Nair notes that many credit Alexander
the Great for “spreading the cult of the peacock from India to the West”
when he conquered the lands from Greece to India. Yet, because the peacock was one of the
sacred animals of Hera, the Greeks already held the bird in high regard.
Christianity came into existence during the Roman Empire. As
it spread and started to appeal to non-Jews, early Christians understood they
need to appropriate pagan practices and symbols to make it easier for non-Jews
to understand. Often, Christians assigned a new meaning to the symbols. Eventually,
Christians appropriated the peacock from Greco-Roman pagans and remade it into
a symbol of Jesus’ resurrection. There
was a well-known legend at the time that the flesh of a peacock could not decay,
which probably supported the Christian resurrection story. Also, Roman coins at the time frequently depicted
the image of a peacock, too. The Romans
used the bird to symbolize a princess becoming a god after she died. This, too, supported the Christian
resurrection story. Christians used the peacock symbol of the resurrection to
decorate their tombs, adopting it from the Romans who originally used pictures
of peacocks to decorate their tombs and funerary monuments.
On the info plaque, the BMA says that the mosaic is from a
Christian household because of the crosses on the border and the inclusion of peacocks.
As this blog illustrates, the history of
the peacock is more complicated than that.
While I was working on this concept for the past few weeks,
I was pleasantly surprised today to see a possible new example of Antioch’s use
of peacocks in a mosaic in the Museum Hotel Antakya, in Turkey, where Antioch
is today (no longer in the province of Syria as it was during the Roman
Empire). When construction began on what
was proposed as a 400-room luxury hotel, they discovered artifacts from Antioch
and decided to incorporate them into the hotel.
As a result, according to the Smithsonian, the hotel hovers over the “world’s largest
single-piece floor mosaic (more than 11,000 square feet) and the first intact
marble statue of the Greek god Eros. All told, the researchers unearthed 35,000
artifacts representing 13 civilizations dating back to the third century B.C.” Below is a picture of one of the fabulous mosaics
that was preserved, which looks similar to the Antioch mosaics at the BMA.
Another spectacular mosaic at the hotel is replete with
birds, including chickens, guinea fowl, and other exotics like an ibises, parrots,
and possibly a flamingo and a female peacocks.
That mosaic is pictured below. Above the head of the physical embodiment
of magnanimity in the mosaic’s center medallion is a bird with the typical
female peacock’s brown coloration and telltale tuft on its head.
One of my earlier blogs remarked on the impact of the coronavirus
on our research project and its impact is shown here, too. After eleven years of incorporating the artifacts
into the hotel’s construction, the Museum Hotel Antakya opened at the beginning
of the pandemic only to have to close. Optimistically, they are taking
reservations for June.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, ArcGIS has become a useful tool for tracking the spread of the virus across the world and mapping the number of confirmed cases in each country. Within our own community at Johns Hopkins University, researchers who work at the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) have been using ArcGIS mapping software to create visualizations of COVID-19 in real time. Thus, it seems like now, more than ever, ArcGIS has gained a newfound importance in today’s society.
In my own personal research and workstream, ArcGIS has become an important tool as well. On Friday, my fellow student investigator Ella Gonzalez and I had a private consultation over Zoom with a member of the Data Services team at the Milton S. Eisenhower Library. She first suggested that we use ArcGIS Online instead of ArcGIS Pro for our project as it is less complex and more user friendly, and then went into a detailed presentation of the various tools we can use for visualizing the distribution of the Antioch mosaics. Compared to my first introduction to ArcGIS a few weeks ago, this presentation was tailored to my specific research interests and made me feel a lot more comfortable using the mapping software on my own time.
After our Zoom meeting, Ella and I decided on a three-phase plan for digitizing the distribution of the Antioch mosaics on ArcGIS Online: the first phase is inputting data into Google Sheets, the second phase is transferring this data to ArcGIS Online, and the third phase is adding external media (i.e., hyperlinks to museum collections, images of mosaics, and potentially the in situ locations of each mosaic).
In the first (and current) phase of our project, we are creating a detailed spreadsheet on Google Sheets that lists each museum in the United States, France, and Turkey that has an Antioch mosaic. Using Google Maps, we will then add the longitude and latitude coordinates of the museum into the spreadsheet, as this will be used within ArcGIS Online to physically map out the museum location. In the second phase of our project, we will be inputting the data from the spreadsheet into ArcGIS Online and adjusting the visual display of our location dots/map in general. In the third phase of our project, we will be adding external media (i.e., links to the museum website, images of the Antioch mosaics) to each location on our map. Depending on how long the first two phases take us, we may want to add links to three-dimensional renderings or floorplans of the houses from Antioch that once contained these mosaics. At the end of the third phase, I hope to publish our map through the University system. Thus, through using ArcGIS Online, I will not only be able to map the past in the present, but also create a graphic that can act as an educational resource for anyone interested in the distribution of the Antioch mosaics.
My research has focused on the distribution of the Antioch mosaics in different museum collections and the politics governing such distribution. Fellow Student Investigator Maya Kahane and I are working on creating a map through ArcGIS Online with the current Antioch mosaics and the various museums in which they are located. With our second ArcGIS training under our belt, our map will tentatively include the museums the mosaics are housed (in the U.S., France, and Turkey), the estimated number of mosaics each collection has, and possibly the different houses and areas of Antioch from which they were excavated represented in the map.
Since there is a vast quantity of mosaics scattered throughout various collections, to approach the distribution, it was my intent throughout this project to use one set of mosaics as a case study to examine the potential elements involved in the broader distribution of the mosaics. I am continuing to research the politics of museums participating in excavations for part of my project, as well as looking into the early collection that comprised the BMA to see if interest in antiquities/building collections and the excavations in any way intersected. I have a call soon with a professor at JHU to discuss these matters, so my research, and consequently, my blog posts, are not necessarily done linearly.
However, I have been able to make good headway on my case study of the Cuban mosaic. The mosaic purportedly in Cuba that I came across a few months ago piqued my interest for several reasons, including the fact that it was from the House of the Buffet Supper, which also has mosaics housed in the Baltimore Museum of Art. Moreover, the initial map of distribution published in Fatih Cimok’s 2005 book,Antioch Mosaics: A Corpus, does not show any other country other than the United States, France, and Turkey as having any of the Antioch mosaics in their respective collections.
Distribution of extant Antioch Mosaics from Fatih Cimok’s Antioch Mosaics: A Corpus
In my previous blog post, I discussed the fact that the mosaics were located at Villanova University, Havana, Cuba. As previously mentioned, Villanova University was founded in Cuba in 1946 by American Augustinian friars with assistance from European Augustinians. However, in 1961, the Castro government expelled the Augustinians from Cuba. As a result, some of the American Augustinians came to Miami and founded Biscayne College, today known as St. Thomas University.
Excavation view of central mosaic panel in Room B5, sold in 1956 to Cuba
The Director of the Princeton VRC sent along scans of correspondences related to the transfer of the mosaic from Princeton to Cuba. The letters span from the summer of 1955 to January of 1956 when the mosaic was finally transferred to Cuba. The correspondences are mainly between two men: Richard Stillwell, an archaeologist and former professor at Princeton from 1925-1967 and former Director of the American School of Classical Studies, Athens, and Eugenio Batista, a Cuban architect, professor, and Dean of the School of Architecture at Villanova in the 1950s, and former Master’s student and architecture professor at Princeton.
The correspondences between the two reveal that interest in purchasing the five fragments from the House of the Buffet Supper was spurred when Eugenio Batista spotted the mosaics in the architecture laboratory at Princeton University in the summer of 1954. The five mosaic fragments sold to Princeton, which comprise one larger mosaic, are geometric in design and depict a central panel with vegetal and foliate motifs, including what looks to be grapes, radiating from a vessel. According to the correspondences, some mosaic pieces from the excavation were purportedly kept in storage at Princeton in the architectural shed because of the lack of space to show them properly.
Stillwell granted a request for Father Lorenzo M. Spiralli, the founder of Villanova University, Father John Kelly, formerly the Vice President and then the President of the University in 1951, and Father Charles Berry, the Director of the School of Architecture for the mosaics. The letters repeatedly mention that they wanted to make this sale highly public, even offering to send pictures of the mosaic and its installation to Princeton. Batista also indicates that he had plans to put the mosaic temporarily against a wall at the entrance to the Library and Museum Building at Villanova and that the mosaic would be set in the vestibule floor when the School of Architecture built its own house.
The letters detail a concern with the finances of the mosaics, namely, the funds involved in transporting the mosaic. According to a letter dated December 1, 1955, the mosaics were going to be transported via the SS Hadrian. A letter from Father Berry confirms the safe arrival of Antioch mosaics to Cuba on January 13, 1956. In this correspondence, Berry mentions that he “will strive to locate it [the mosaic] in a worthy and permanent setting.”
Yet what did become of the five fragments?
Digitally flipping through Villanova yearbooks and all online correspondences, what I can locate thus far has proved fruitless in terms of finding the mosaic’s current location. However, with the help of friends, especially a colleague in the History of Art Department and connections forged with various institutions, I have continued to contact individuals who might be able to help locate the mosaic. If my search is successful, I can add the location of the Cuban mosaic on the distribution map.
When I look at the Striding Lion
in the museum’s prominently displayed mosaic, it reminds me of a similar lion on
the Ishtar gate, (depicted below) in what was once Babylon. That makes sense,
as both Mesopotamia and Syria (the precursor to Antioch) were part of the Achaemenid
Persian Empire. After Alexander the Great conquered that Empire, he eventually
died and his generals divided up his Empire amongst themselves. The biggest chunk of his Empire went to General
Seleucus and included Syria and Mesopotamia, among other things. Seleucus built
Antioch in what was then Syria and made it the capital of his Empire, switching
it from Seleucia Pieria. After many wars, Antioch eventually became part of the
Roman Republic in 64 BC. Then in 27 BC, the Roman Republic became the Roman
Why did animals feature so prominently in the art of this period? Like today, animals symbolized many meanings. The Babylonians said that different animals embodied specific gods. For example, the lion was associated with the goddess Ishtar, the bull with the god Adad and the mushussu dragon was associated with Marduk, the chief god of the Babylonian pantheon. Lions were also said to have protective qualities because the Babylonians viewed them as being strong. There are many examples of statues of lions in front of gates at sites throughout the former Neo-Babylonian Empire, implying that the Babylonians believed that having an image of a lion facing outward near the door could protect the building. Babylonians also described lions as terrifying by nature, so it was believed that images of lions could scare away demons and evil spirits. A pair of lion statues found near the gate of a temple whose names are listed in a cuneiform inscription as “Dan-Bitim” and “Rašub-Bitim”. meaning “Strong one of the Temple” and “Terrifying one of the Temple” respectively. The names reveal that these animal statues serve the temple with their “strong” and “terrifying” nature.
After the Achaemenid Persian Empire conquered the neo-Babylonian Empire, they adopted the practice of depicting bulls and lions, but not the mushussu dragon. Even though the Persians didn’t follow the same gods as the Babylonians, they allowed the people living in Mesopotamia to keep believing in them. The Persians also continued the use of the lion as the symbol of strength. Given the large Persian community in Antioch in the Third Century AD and its relative proximity to the border with the Sassanid Persian Empire, anyone from the Eastern half of the Empire who came to Antioch would know what the Striding Lion symbolized.
information and image from THE SYMBOLIC ROLE OF ANIMALS IN
BABYLON: A CONTEXTUAL APPROACH TO THE LION, THE BULL AND THE MUŠḪUŠŠU by Chikako
The 500-pound gorilla is coronavirus, so even though I planned on continuing to write about the geopolitics of Antioch during the time of the mosaics, the Roman Empire, this blog will address the gorilla and those centuries-old mosaics in the time of a modern pandemic.
Our Antioch Recovery Project is shut down now along with other classes. We are instead finishing the class portion of the course online. At our major research university, the research has shut down. Much has been written about the many important scientific and medical (ironically, many potentially life-saving) projects, often longitudinal, that will stop precipitously. This is truly dire.
Yet, often forgotten is the impact on non-scientific
research. Even though we continue our
research online for this project, long anticipated field trips to see other
Antioch mosaics at Princeton and beyond are cancelled. Personally, my own research has been impacted
because I can’t get to the library to look at ancient books in the rare books
collection or borrow unique books from borrow-direct.
The biggest impact to me, however, involves
collaborations. For the past several
weeks, my research for my next blog was on the “missing” Antioch mosaic sent to
Cuba on July 8th 1937.
Via the internet, I was able to isolate its last documented location in a
report from Princeton University.
According to the report, the mosaic’s provenance was Villanova University,
Havana, Cuba. After Castro’s 1959 revolution,
religion was banned in 1961, and religious buildings were nationalized and
“repurposed” (to borrow from current pandemic language).
So began my adventure.
I reached out to a colleague, a History professor at the University of
Havana, who had served as my translator when I did an archeology internship in
Cuba in 2018 and who I have stayed in contact with and now consider a dear
friend. He told me that after Villanova University
and its church were closed, it was abandoned for a while. The church that accompanied it was almost
destroyed. Now, the University is a technical institute in Playa Municipality
of Havana Province. He shared my energy
for this historical mystery and agreed to travel the following week to the site
to try to find the mosaic and return photographs via Facebook to me. This would help our Antioch Recovery Project
confirm not only the location of a missing Antioch mosaic, but give us an idea
of its condition, as well.
That was three weeks ago.
Since then, Cuba reported its first coronavirus infection statistics and
its first deaths. And I haven’t heard from him on the project. I suspect that he is well, and that Cuba is
taking public health precautions by locking down the island but doesn’t want to
report that. Yet, each day that goes by,
I wonder. My concern is compounded by my
technology. About a week ago, the photos
app on my cellphone pulled up some photos of us at the Bay of Pigs last spring
break. It was only a year ago, but in
many ways that carefree time period seems as long ago as the third-century of