THE OECUS EMBLEMA
The ancient via Gabina stretched
about 15 km eastward from the center of Rome to Gabii, a longtime rival of early
Rome. It was an important thoroughfare long before the building of the nearby
via Prenestina which supplanted it in 80 B.C. As Rome grew over the long years,
numerous structures of various types were erected along the old road. The most
frequent of these were farmhouses and then their conversions to villa estates.
1) For fourteen seasons beginning in 1976 the Department of Art and Art
History of Rice University has been conducting excavations of Roman villas along
the via Gabina under the direction of Walter Widrig and the author. In July
1986 the excavation uncovered a rare type of mosaic in the remains of an extensive
villa much of which had been already explored. In the north central part of
the complex residence a large room with a plain white mosaic floor of opus tessellatum
surrounded on three sides by a mosaic border consisting of three black bands
and three white bands was uncovered. For some yet unexplained reason the eastern
border had only two black bands and two white bands. This room, which was almost
square, was entered only from the northern range of the peristyle. Because of
its location and large size it must have been an important part of the house,
an oecus for the dining of special male guests or a triclinium for more generalized
meals. An additional indication of its significance was the small colored mosaic
picture or emblema, a square (.595 x .595 m.) placed on the north-south axis
of the square room (N. wall = 13.35 m., S. wall = 13.25 m., E. wall = 13.175
m., W. wall = 13.25 m.). It was made of very small tesserae aligned in curving
patterns resembling worms and thus the type is called opus vermiculatum.
The emblema portrayed the climax
of the story of Hylas, the young squire of Herakles, while they were on the
Argonaut expedition. The group beached the expedition's ship, Argo, in order
to rest, and Herakles went off to search for timber to make a new oar. Hylas
went to a nearby pool to fetch water for the camp. The nymphs living in the
pool fell in love with the young man's beauty and dragged him into the pool.
This is the moment represented by the emblema. He was not seen again much to
Though the emblema, now lifted,
was on the north-south axis of the room, it was not directly in the center of
the oecus because it was closer to the southern edge of the pavement than the
northern one (8.10 M from the N edge; 5.05 M from the S edge). Since there were
no windows, the room was illuminated solely by a wide door in the south wall.
This arrangement also served to light up the emblema better because of its placement
nearer to the source of light. The picture of the emblema was oriented to the
north wall so that anyone looking at it on the axis from the north would get
the best view of the fate of Hylas. That is, the bottom of the picture was toward
the north, and the top of the picture was toward the south. People entering
the room would see the picture from the worst angle until they moved around
to the other side of the room and faced south. This was an important arrangement,
for an honored guest would have been placed at the north facing the entrance.
Along the northern end of the
room was an unexpected variation of the opus tessellatum pavement. While the
wider external band of the border continued straight across the northern edge
of the pavement, the four narrower black and white inner bands of the border
ran only a short distance along the north edge from both the east and west corners.
They then turned south and then again east and west respectively to form a large
rectangular enclosure measuring 3.1 m x 8.45 m on the inside. While it is all
a flat pattern, differences in the laying of the tesserae add to the contrast
between the two parts of the floor. The major part of the pavement was laid
in a reticulate pattern. Inside the enclosure the tesserae were placed in a
parallel east-west arrangement. The rectangle was clearly intended to be the
place of honor for the couch of a distinguished visitor.Furthermore the axis
of the room and its entrance, while not leading to the center point of the peristyle
court, did lead directly to a rectangular pit cut deep into the bedrock of the
western side which was high at this area. The cavity could have been the seating
for a piece of sculpture or a courtyard fountain. Regrettably when the pit was
emptied of the fill, nothing was found that led to an understanding of its purpose.
The emblema was contained in
a shallow terra-cotta box not unlike a roof-tile. The four rims protected and
held together the tiny tesserae. Thus the emblema was entirely portable in its
tile framework; certainly it was not executed at the villa and was not necessarily
made for the place where it was found.
Inside the tile, as part of the
emblema, is a black band two tesserae wide surrounding the picture. In the upper
part of the emblema is a white band the same width as the black band. Across
the top and along the sides it extends inside the black band until it is cut
off on the sides by the rocky contour, lower on the left side and shorter on
the right. This band reduces the sense of space because it is part of the framework
and yet it responds to the elements of the visual subject matter. Numerous black
and brown tessarae pepper the white strip. The tile itself functions as a smooth
reddish band enclosing the small tesserae of the emblema. Outside the tile is
a heavy framework composed of the coarser, square tessarae of opus tessellatum.
Next to the tile are a white band, a black band and another white band, each
two tessarae wide. This is surrounded by a cable or guilloche pattern of only
two strands of white outlined by black tesserae and enclosed on each side by
a single line of black. Beyond the guilloche are double pairs of white and black
bands of two tesserae each. The whole frame is .375 m wide forming a square
of 1.20 m.
On the walls at the meeting with
the mosaic floor was a marble revetment .16 m. high topped by a marble molding
.03 m. in height. Above the molding was a mortared facing without fresco painting.
Many small fragments of painted wall plaster were scattered over the mosaic
pavement. By far the predominant color was yellow ochre. The next most prevalent
color was dark red. Small amounts of white, green, blue, black, and maroon painted
fragments were sometimes shared with red and ochre, some with straight lines.
Several red fragments also had sections of a wave pattern. These colored pieces
of wall plaster suggest that the room was simply decorated with a yellow ochre
dado with panels articulated by a running wave pattern in red and white. Above
the dado may have been a yellow ochre wall with panels using other colors. A
single fragment of a floral design, if not an intruder, could have been part
of a system to add variety. No evidence exists to make the creation of the fragments
of wall painting contemporary with either the pavement or the emblema. They
merely existed in the room together over an undetermined length of time.
When the emblema and the white
mosaic pavement were lifted, very little pottery was found beneath them. What
little there was has been undatable. Nevertheless, beneath the emblema a Republican
bronze as of Rome dated 155-152 B.C. was discovered. From the layer beneath
the white mosaic pavement a bronze semis of Rome dated 132 B.C. was recovered.
Since this layer was sealed by the mosaics we certainly have a terminus ante
quem and we have no specific later date for it.
No structure of the Republican
period has been found in the remains of the villa, but several red tufa blocks
of a type frequently used in Republican structures defined the walls of the
Augustan period oecus, and a considerable amount of Republican black-glazed
pottery has turned up in the lower layers of that area.
Even though no earlier mosaic
floor appeared beneath the pavement with the emblema, part of another floor
existed. It lay directly beneath the rectangular mosaic enclosure at the northern
end of the oecus. It was made of opus signinum with black and white marble chips
embedded in it. It, too, was rectangular, though the western end was destroyed.
Like its descendant above it was surrounded by a border, perhaps marble, though
only a mortar strip enclosing the rectangle is preserved. One can only guess
that its function was the same as the later, more sumptuous example, which was
superimposed over it. No part of any extended pavement relating to it has survived
unless it could be that the emblema was reused when the earlier oecus was remodeled.
Neither were there fragments of earlier wall painting to suggest the decoration.
In the Roman Republican villa
the oecus was square, frequently located to the north of the peristyle. Many
of them had doors on the axis of the room but not on the axis of the court.
In addition there were places for the couches of guests placed around the mosaic
floors with central emblemata. Just as we have seen in the Villa at Site 10.
It seems appropriate at this point to refer to some of the Greek antecedents
of the Roman dwelling. It is important to note these because in the Republican
period some characteristics of the Greek house were adapted to Roman houses
One of the significant elements
which developed in the Greek house in the late classical and Hellenistic times
was a major room set aside for the dining of male guests and called the andron.
Generally it was placed on the north side of the courtyard behind an imposing
portico called the pastas. The court need not have had colonnades on the other
three sides, though eventually the concept did develope into the peristyle.
Typical of this kind of plan were the houses of Olynthus 430 - 348 B.C. in Chalkidike,
northern Greece. A sizable group of houses has been excavated there and many
of them had andrones. Of these twenty-one out of twenty-five are nearly square
though the doors entrances were not necessarily centered on the room. Some andrones
opened directly off the pastas, but others had a vestibule in line with the
doorway rather than the axis of the room. The vestibule too might have a mosaic,
but it would not be an emblema. The houses of Olynthus along the walls of the
andron, except for a gap at the entrance, had slightly raised cement bases less
than a meter wide. These bases were intended for the couches of diners at banquets.
More than half the fifteen mosaics
found in Olynthus occur in andrones. Frequently they are geometric designs or
representational figures. However the most well-known is the Bellerophon mosaic
in house A VI 3. The earliest mythological subject known in mosaic, it depicts
the hero riding on Pegasus in a circle as he spears the Chimaera. The Bellerophon
mosaic establishes a background for the Hellenistic period of Greek and Roman
emblemata. Dated c. 380 - 370 B.C. it is too early to be made of opus tessellatum
or opus vermiculatum, but is created in the original mosaic method, the pebble
technique. This method uses natural pebbles, sorted according to color and set
into mortar to create figures and patterns. Because of their irregular shapes
and variations of sizes, the pebbles do not fit tightly together. As a result
the mortar which is sometimes colored, shows between them. All the mosaics at
Olynthus were made in this way. In the Bellerophon mosaic lines of black pebbles
within the white shapes create the effect of a drawing. The surround patterns
made of double lines, have a heavier effect. However the Bellerophon mosaic
functions as an emblema in the center of the pavement within the square room.
The figures are set in a circle framed by a square (3 m. x 3 m.) which has a
wave pattern around its outer edges. The off-axis entrance from the pastas has
a rectangular pebble mosaic of two griffins attacking a stag. There is no sense
of spacial recession or landscape in either of the mosaics.
The utmost in the development
of the pebble mosaic has been found in Pella, the Macedonian birthplace of Alexander
the Great. In a square andron discovered in 1957 during the early phases of
the excavations was an emblema set against the white of the mosaic pavement
ground. It portrayed the young Dionysos riding on the back of a leopard against
the dark ground of the picture. The pebbles are black, gray, red, yellow, and
white varying in size from .5 cm. to 1.00 cm. Though set together closely, the
pebbles are laid at random within the forms. To sharpen the outlines terra cotta
and lead strips were embedded around important contours of the figures and along
the swirls of Dionysos' locks. The ivy wreath he wears is emphasized by small
sections of terra cotta rolls grouped together. There is only a suggestion of
shading. This technique has been found in other mosaics at Pella and rarely
elsewhere. However, the interest in clear linear representation remains important
in these Hellenistic mosaics. The combined figures are silhouetted by the black
background. There is no horizon line, but a ground plane is suggested by the
rear paws of the leopard as they support the animal and its rider.
Like the andrones at Olynthus
a raised cement base ran around the walls of this andron. There was however
no vestibule picture mosaic, but the floor of the anteroom leading to the andron
was paved with a large geometric pebble mosaic. Scholars agree that the Dionysos
mosaic should be dated in the last third of the fourth century with the variation
of a decade or so.
In 1961 more mosaics were uncovered
at Pella. The best preserved and perhaps the most interesting was the emblema
called the Stag Hunt which was situated in a block of the city near the Dionysos
mosaic. It depicted two young men attacking a frightened stag with an ax and
a sword while their dog bites the side of the animal. The irregular representation
of the ground supports the two youths on its outline. Only one foot of the dog
and one of the hooves of the stag create a slight sense of depth by overlapping
the mass of the ground. The figures overlie one another at a number of places
and somewhat create the space of a closely knit sculptural group. Though there
is no sense of directional light and cast shadow, the figures, both animal and
human, are sensitively modelled to give them a sculptural solidity. Each figure
exhibits a clear-cut silhouette with no detail lost in shade. Even the interior
shading of the forms has a linear character. However, terra cotta or lead strips
were not used anywhere in the Stag Hunt mosaic to enhance the clarity of the
forms. The manner in which the fine pebbles were laid contributes to the sculptural
character of the bodies. Lines of uniform pebbles follow the internal planes
of the figures so that the solidity of the forms becomes accented. The effect
is like a sculptured relief. This is true also of the luxuriant acanthus plants,
which are the major elements of the frame. The various flowers, palmettes, corkscrew
tendrils, and leaves, not only unfold three dimensionally as spirals, ellipses,
and overlaps but the lines of pebbles flow over their surfaces to give them
volume. Many south Italian vase paintings of the fourth century B.C. have the
same vibrant vegetation as decorations around their pictures. This mosaic, indeed,
is a masterpiece and the artist justly proud, has signed it . Nothing more is
known about him.
In comparison with the simple
beauty of the Dionysos emblema the Stag Hunt appears more advanced and pictorial,
and certainly must be later. The excavators place it around 300 B.C.
The Hellenistic development of
the andron and emblema extended to the west in Magna Graecia on the island of
Sicily at Morgantina (Serra Orlando). There, in a house dated not later than
the second quarter of third century B.C., now known as the House of Ganymede
three square rooms opening on the peristyle were excavated from 1956 to 1959.
Though all of them had mosaics,
the most significant mosaic was in the room at the northwestern corner of the
peristyle. It portrayed the rape of Ganymede framed by a perspective meander.
Unlike the other mosaic floors which used just a few square tessarae, the Ganymede
mosaic was mostly made up of square tessarae of various sizes. In the frame
small pieces of rectangular and triangular light and dark stones were cut to
fit the meander in an opus sectile technique to give greater sharpness to the
perspective pattern. The same technique was used in the figure of Ganymede where
the toes, the joints, the eyes and the testicles were cut out to fit the shapes
of the parts. Most of the mosaic however was made of square tessarae formed
in lines articulating the larger shapes. These tessarae were small, ranging
from 0.4 cm. to 0.8 cm. square. In the background lines of the larger tessarae
moved in vertical and horizontal directions. This mosaic is generally accepted
as the first example of true opus tessellatum technique.
As many of the tessarae in the
figure of Ganymede are small, ranging from .6 cm to .4 cm, and run over the
figure in curved lines, the mosaic must also be the earliest example of the
use of opus vermiculatum. Kyle Phillips has dated the mosaic 260-250 B.C., some
other scholars place it somewhat later.
Like the Ganymede mosaic of Morgantina
a few of the small pieces composing the Hylas mosaic are not square but are
cut to fit the shape of the form. They can be seen in parts of the rippling
draperies of the main figure as well as in the dark shadows along his back where
many of the pieces are comparatively long rectangles rather than square tessarae.
Some finger tips are triangular and the eyes are also shaped. Furthermore the
dark lines of Hylas and of the sleeping figure, like those of Ganymede, seem
to reflect an influence of the lead outlines of the Pella mosaics. In the figure
of Ganymede the tessarae are noticeably smaller than those of the background.In
the figures of the Hylas mosaic the tessarae are smaller, 0.10 cm. to 0.40 cm.,
sometimes forming whorls and other descriptive arrangements. These patterns
provide some volume to the figures and rocks. There is no sense of landscape
in the Ganymede mosaic. The mosaic is so damaged that any possibility of an
horizon line has been eradicated. Only the legs of Ganymede actively move in
space. The feathers of the eagle behind the youth seem flat.
Further background for the Hylas
mosaic can be found to the east on the island of Delos. In the Maison des Masques,
part of one of the latest areas of the ancient city is an andron with an unexpected
treatment for an emblema. The room opens from the north eastern part of the
peristyle and is rectangular. Also rectangular is the large mosaic which is
not entirely an emblema. Only the central square is the emblema, made in opus
vermiculatum. On each side are opus tessellatum mosaics of centaurs in diamond
shapes surrounded by decorative elements. The whole rectangle is framed by a
series of bands with dog tooth and wave motifs.
The emblema consists of Dionysos
riding on a leopard which stands on the edge of a ground plane created by a
stripe across the bottom, that is, visually the only support for the leopard.
The figures themselves have a partial volume produced by the ellipses of the
folds of the draperies, the tunic of Dionysos, and the garland around the neck
of the leopard. The background suggests only undefined space with no semblance
The emblema has not been properly
inserted into the ensemble. The lines at the sides were not flush with the borders,
and triangular pieces had been inserted to make the panel fit into the gaps.
The necessity for this adjustment reveals the emblema was created separate from
the rest of the mosaic but both possibly in the last half of the second century
B.C. Because of its tile container the Hylas mosaic also appears to have been
inserted into the floor of the villa oecus though it seems to be of somewhat
later date than the Delos mosaic but earlier than the surrounding floor of the
In the mid second century B.C.
an interior relief was added to the great Pergamon altar, facing the sacrificial
altar on three sides. It told the story of Telephos, son of Heracles and legendary
founder of Pergamon. The frieze is smaller in scale and different in conception
from the Gigantomachy that extends around the base on the outside of the altar.
There is no single base line as is usual in earlier Greek reliefs, and the upper
edge does not determine the size of the figures. Landscape elements frequently
provide a setting for the action but do not create the illusion of distance.
One of the best preserved sections is the construction of the ark of Auge, Telephos'
mother. She has been sentenced to be cast adrift by her father, the King, for
being seduced by Heracles and giving birth to Telephos. Enshrouded by drapery
she is seated on a rock at the top of the scene while she watches the workmen
below build the ark. The figures are slightly different in size but not systematically
so. She appears to be about the same size as the workman kneeling at the left.
She is larger than the two women seated next to her and smaller than the rest
of the workmen. On the piece to the right the draped nymph at the top is larger
than the woman building a fire below. The placement of the figures and the variations
in size close up the sense of deep space but activate the surface with a kind
of tension. Painterly aspects emphasize the atmospheric effects, textures, and
linear relationships. The boat with its large curved lines links the upper and
lower elements together. Though it has some elements of a floor mosaic, this
relief was obviously not intended to be used as a pavement.
At this point it is necessary
to return briefly to earlier Greek works for possible interest in landscape
and concepts of the human form as elements of Hellenistic and early Roman paintings
or mosaics. In representations of the human figure or, for that matter, of animals
the aim of archaic Greek painting and sculpture was primarily to create a sense
of power or spiritual essence. Prior to the mid fifth century a kind of energy
was generated by the linear and volumetric relationships without aiming to simulate
an exact reproduction of animate forms.
Egyptian art with its stiff,
flat, geometric reductions from what is normally perceived by the human eye
is believed to have influenced early Greek painting and sculpture. The kouros
and kore figures of archaic Greek sculpture are similar to, though more energetic
than, the older Egyptian art which had impressed the Greek tradesmen during
their commercial travels around the Mediterranean in the seventh and sixth centuries
B.C. While Egyptian art developed very slowly. Greek art changed constantly
from decade to decade.
In archaic Greek vase painting
figures are less rigid and more varied than those generally found in larger
scale on the walls of Egyptian tombs and temples. These paintings and reliefs,
too, recorded mostly the rituals and activities of divinities, royalty, and
the labors of lesser people: Greek painting on vases told stories of gods and
heroes of myths as well as athletics and every day life. Few examples of other
types of Greek painting have survived until the development of figurative mosaics
in the fourth century B.C.
On the various shapes of Greek
vessels figures stand on the lower edges of bands running around large vessels
on the rims and exergues of cup interiors or coins without interest in depth
of space. Human beings are presented as almost two dimensional either in profile,
frontal positions or combinations of both without considering the visual transitions
from one position to another. Overlapping forms such as arms and legs created
a sense of shallow space. Figures on archaic relief sculpture tended to be confined
in much the same way.
We learn of the painter Polygnotos
who worked from about 470 to 440 B.C. A number of his monumental murals, especially
the ones in the Knidian Lesche (clubhouse) in Delphi, The Sack of Troy and a
depiction of the Underworld, were described in detail by the Greek traveler
and antiquarian, Pausanias. He journeyed throughout Greece in the mid-and late-second
century A.D. From his detailed account of the monumental paintings of Polygnotos,
which must still have been more or less intact, we can visualize something of
what they were like and comprehend the artist's revolutionary innovations.
In Delphi Polygnotos had painted
the destruction of Troy, not in the midst of violence but the desolate scene
of the defeated Trojans, the dead, the wounded, the mourning, fearful women,
the ruined city wall and the Greeks preparing to sail away with their loot.
Pausanias tells us how the different people moved or stood or reclined according
to the action of the narrative. Also represented were apparel, properties such
as weapons, armor, and set pieces like ships, tents, buildings and altars. Polygnotos
inscribed a name close to each figure by which Pausanias was able to identify
many of the characters portrayed in the mural. It is significant that Pausanias
described the various figures as being up or down, on different ground lines
relative to other elements in the paintings. Some of them are near the bottom,
the middle, or the top, placed next to other components of the picture. This
means they were positioned at multiple levels of the landscape, creating for
the first time a peopled view of the irregular rising ground of a hill. All
of Polygnotos' figures are concerned with the ability of the human body to express
movement in many ways with the parts interdependent and interrelated and subject
to the innate forces of nature. These concepts had been foreshadowed in the
early fifth century B.C. by the growing belief that human beings were no longer
subservient to the old, stylized patterns of nature and the terrors of the unknown.
This shift in the perception of
the world and its inhabitants seems to reflect the lack of unanimity of the
early Greek philosophers. The Presocratics left a legacy of confusion. Each
one had his own way of explaining the phenomena of the world that he observed.
This resulted in much perplexity, causing doubt about the gods, traditions and
ideals previously so important. As a result a focus on human beings became the
center of interest and led to the rise of the Sophists whose profession was
largely teaching oratory and self advancement. The most reputable and thoughtful
of the Sophists was Protagoras who proclaimed that "Man is the measure of all
things." This idea had a strong impact on the sculptors and painters of the
mid-fifth century. The Doryphoros of the sculptor Polykleitos of Argos has been
generally thought of as the most descriptive example of Progagoras' theory even
though only Roman copies now exist, but it must have been apparent in the painted
figures of Polygnotos, too.
Although Polygnotos was a large
scale painter covering an interior wall of the Knidian Lesche from top to bottom,
our best surviving visual example of his style is preserved by the small scale
representations on the fine Greek pottery that has survived. In the Louvre is
the large Greek vessel known as the Niobid Krater, so named after the picture
on one side of the slaying of the children of Niobe by Artemis and Apollo for
insulting their mother. On the other side of the krater is a scene named after
the Argonaut expedition. This subject is not so clear cut as the Death of the
Niobids. It has been interpreted a number of ways, but the identity of Athena
and Heracles is unquestionable. The interpretation of the rest of the figures
has been more difficult. The most frequent identifications of the two youths,
one reclining and the other seated, have been Theseus and his friend Pirithous.
To consider the Hellenistic characteristics
of Roman mosaics it is necessary to turn to the early mosaics of Pompeii and
Rome. In the House of the Faun, one of the earliest of the great villas, there
were several oeci, but unfortunately many of the emblemata have been damaged
or looted. However it is worth mentioning the astonishing mosaic of the Battle
of Alexander or the Battle of the Issus. It is not an emblema but was a display
piece fully occupying the floor of its own exedra. This is not the place to
go into the details of its subject matter. It is generally dated to the first
half of the second century B.C. as a copy of a famous Greek painting of the
late 4th century by Philoxenos. What is notable here beyond its pictorial and
probable historical value, is that it was made in opus vermiculatum, most likely
produced by Greek artizans. As its size is 271 cm x 512 cm., one is amazed at
the expanse of tiny tessarae preserved at the Naples National Museum. The space
portrayed is shallow, not more than three or four figures in depth. Darius and
his charioteer, Alexander and his victim and the frantic horses occupy a shallow
stage. The variety and power of the action illustrate the developed concepts
of human and animal bodies since Polygnotos. The sky is closed by a series of
spears and a tree, all tightly controlled. The foreground except for a few abandoned
weapons is empty. One must assume that the original painting had the same spacial
composition and could have been viewed as easily as the pavement of the exedra.
It is a masterpiece of organization without a vista, without the sense of an
extended battlefield arena, but of the crash of two intense personal forces.
The mosaic probably closely reproduces the Greek original as well as could be
done with the fine mosaic technique and presents the observer with a major record
of Hellenistic painting.
An addition to the exedra of
the Alexander mosaic is a nilotic mosaic set in three wide strips between the
two entrance columns and the antae of the structure. Animals, birds, and plants
appear in or on the water with very little space created by overlapping. They
all seem to be observed from a high angle without an horizon line. The surface
of the water disappears at the top beyond the picture elements.
Another well-known Hellenistic
Roman mosaic, also not an emblema though made in the opus vermiculatum manner,
is the nilotic mosaic in the Sanctuary of Fortuna at Praeneste. It is spatially
quite different from the Alexander mosaic, but it, too, is not concerned primarily
with the illusion of depth. Although it is involved with landscape, it portrays
separate views that are not basically contiguous. There is no overall spacial
system. Most of the human figures vary in size whether they are at the bottom
of the picture or at the top. Though it was discovered as part of the pavement
of the sanctuary, many of the small figures at the bottom are the same size
as the ones at the top. The buildings seem to float without anchor as independent
islands in the Nile. The rocks and mountains at the top part of the picture
obscure the horizon and appear to be as close to the observer as the boats and
buildings at the bottom. While there is an interplay between the parts, it is
not because they create a spacial vista, but because they attract the interest
of the observer in detail from top to bottom.
This kind of space can be seen
in Hellenistic reliefs where figures vary in size according to their importance
rather than a spacial system adjusted to the scale and location of the human
figures. The idea of rational space is not significant. Other reasons govern
the relationships of the forms.
In the Munich Glyptothek is a
votive relief dated in the last half of the second century B.C.n showing a sacrificial
scene. Distance is screened largely by a heavy drapery and an enormous tree.
Human figures in four different scales are put together to create a single auspicious
event for a god and goddess, a lesser family making a sacrifice, shorter human
onlookers, and small sculptural representations on a massive pier. These last
are rendered so that it is uncertain whether the figures are dwarfish immediately
behind the others or larger and at a distance. All of the groups contradict
normal spacial relationships, but in so doing produce an abstract interlocking
design relating strongly to the surface plane. The variety of sizes suggests,
as well the ranking of the significance of each group disregarding illusionism.
Unlike mosaics these reliefs were not intended to be seen on the floor, but
frequently spacial concepts were shared by both media at this period.
In Pompeii many of the emblemata
have been sorely damaged, and others removed from the original context without
documentation. As a final example of Hellenistic composition is the more recently
excavated mosaic in the House of Menander. It is still in situ in a room called
the Green Oecus.n at the north east corner of the peristyle. Different phases
of the chronology of the house are represented by this dining room: the green
wall frescoes are later; the mosaic floor with its emblema is the earliest part
according to the excavator, A. Maiuri, who dates it to the mid-second century
The emblema has a nilotic landscape
with pygmies in a large and small boats. They float on a body of water bordered
with small houses which look very much like the cabin on the larger boat. The
boats, pygmies, and houses all are treated as different aspects of space. The
vigorous figures whether pygmies or not, seem to overwhelm the boats and make
the water appear to be like a small stream. The dark blue lines on the water
are farther apart above the boats and closer together in front of the boats
at the bottom of the mosaic. This is a reversal of the natural foreshortening
of waves. The ducks on the far side are the size of cows relative to the size
of the buildings. The visible interior of the boats suggests that they are somewhat
below eye level, but the expanse of water from foreground to the houses at the
top puts the eye level much higher. The houses, however, with their columns
and entablatures are also seen at a higher range. Because of contradictory points
of view there is not sense of recession into distant space. This treatment which
denies an integrated system, flattens out the picture and makes the mosaic more
appropriate for a pavement as well as a strong two-dimensional design.
With the Hylas mosaic of Site
10 the grotto with the pool and the rocky terrain also are without much depth.
From the bottom where Hylas stands on the ledges of stone and sand to the heights
where the two figures relax there is very little recession, but an upward thrust
of mountainous forms with cascades of water spilling down to the pool below.
The figures are lightly modeled
without a sense of sculptural fullness. The folds of the garments slightly project
from the vertical planes of the background. The piled-up rocks create shallow
perpendicular planes on top of which the two upper figures recline and against
which the three lower figures are set. Even the pool of water is somewhat slanted.
The whole effect of the mosaic picture is like a colored relief rather than
a vista into a rocky pool scene. This aspect has appeared to some degree in
the Alexander mosaic as well as the Pella Stag Hunt and the Argonaut scene on
the Niobid krater and the nilotic scene of the House of Menander amongst others.
Certainly a relationship between paintings and pictorial mosaics must be considered.
After all, a mosaic probably is the only copy existing of the lost painting,
variations or not, of Philoxenos of Eretria or another capable early Hellenistic
artist. Certainly a relationship between paintings and pictorial mosaics must
The apparent rock between the
two upper figures is not a stone but seems to be a kind of plant. The right
figure leans on a mossy yellow-green mound. Her right arm rests on the water
jar, the elbow extending over the green area. The tan and brown triangle behind
the blue bush-like element next to the jar is continued by the grayish blue
curved shape and is part of the irregular landscape. Behind the surface of the
ledge on which the sprite reclines, there is a grayish blue-green sky. The fuzzy
brown line curving across the upper right corner is the mark of the restoration
after the corner was broken off during the transfer of the mosaic to storage
by the National Museum. The water surges up again around the ledge of the figure
and falls behind the gray and pink moss, filling a split in the rock. The water
billows up again over another pink and gray stone and then drops behind the
fluttering draperies of the naiad in the pool. The stream comes out from below
the draperies beside a rock with a green and tan upper surface and enters the
From the right, water out of
the jug disappears partly behind a rock and then flows under the reclining figure
with the cornucopia. Leaning against the curve of the ledge, she gazes away
to the left, completely preoccupied, as the flow forks to the right in a small
stream it vanishes behind Hylas' rippling mantle against the side of a grayish-brown
bulge of the mountain. This rock creates a deep brown shadow which contrasts
with Hylas' active figure.
The water flowing from the jug
of the right upper figure passes under her fingers into a gray area which could
be a cleft in the rock or a rising swell of foam. The nymph reclines on a ledge
and casts a shadow on its yellowish and whitish surface. Strongly marked, her
garment winds around her body, passing over her head and twists around her right
arm which leans on the jug. Several of the tessarae of her right elbow have
been lost, leaving empty impressions in the mortar at some places. Furthermore
her face has been sadly damaged, but her gold drop earring dangles in the shadow
of her hood. A glint of gold at her left wrist suggests she wore a bracelet.
To the rear of the ledge rises
a light blue mound topped by a gray ellipse and shadowed to the right by a deeper
gray plane. The white strip around the upper edge of the mosaic, as mentioned
previously, vanishes on the right side behind the knoll.
Another spurt of blue water spills
over to the left into a crevice behind the massive buff stone which has been
noticeably calcified. The right hand stream continues to tumble over the boulders
and joins another deep blue fork appearing beneath the knees of the nymph at
the right. This conjunction swells the descending flow which disappears behind
a facet of the brown and tan stone. Within the expanded area of the cascade
is a disruption in the surface of the mosaic. This is the largest area of damage
which must have occurred during the long deterioration of the villa. Fortunately
it is relatively small and confined within the limits of this spill of the cascade.
The fall of water emerges below from the slit of overlapping rocks and rises
over another rock toward the pool at the lower part of the mosaic.
The other fork of water springing
from the right nymph pours out beneath the figure of the left nymph. Under the
draperies on which she reclines spouts a blue and white rivulet which continues
into a cleft in the rock behind Hylas' cloak. The major gush of the water flows
down to her ledge and disappears where the nymph's left foot projects. This
nymph reposes on her elbow leaning on part of her drapery which descends in
folds along her side and then swells across her lower abdomen. Her legs are
wrapped loosely in more drapery part of which droops over he ledge into the
passing water. Here some of the tessarae of this area are calcified. She holds
in her right hand a cornucopia which is long and slender, curving from above
the hand that grips it to across her thighs. Unfortunately much of the cornucopia
area is somewhat damaged, but her right thumb and the flair at the top of the
horn can still be seen. She possible wears a bracelet on her left wrist.
Central to the Site 10 emblema
is Hylas, the largest figure of the mosaic. He dominates the whole scene not
only by the size of his body but by his animated pose and undulating cloak.
He has just been attacked by the naiad of the pool while he bends to fill his
metal pitcher with water. As she pulls at his arm, his body strains to resist
her sudden assault. In his left hand he holds awkwardly on the long diagonal
shaft of his spear with the point directed downward beyond the naiad. Oddly
in the same hand appears to be the upper parts of a sword: a pommel, a handle
with rings around it, a protective guard clutched in Hylas' hand. At Hylas left
wrist hang two ends of what possibly was intended to be the baldric for the
scabbard of the sword. The two pieces are probably meant to be joined by a small
loop hanging from the other side of his wrist. Nevertheless it is much narrower
in breadth than the two end pieces which taper to a comparatively broad width.
Perhaps the material was intended to appear folded. However it does not resemble
the folds of Hylas' cloak which are draped over his left shoulder and which
faintly continue over his right shoulder to emerge as the large swirl behind
him. This very active garment with its rhythmic folds acts as a foil to set
off the dynamic, angular movements of the young man's desperate attempt to free
Above Hylas' left arm is another
relatively large damage to the mosaic of the massive brown and tan boulder.
The upper part of this injury cuts through the shaft of the lance. This gap
is roughly filled with yellowish mortar which may be the remains of an ancient
but transient repair.
The water naiad whose extended
right hand has grasped the biceps of Hylas' left arm is emerging from the pond.
Tension between the two figures is stressed by their three quarter positions
facing each other. The naiad is a muscular figure half risen from the pool with
the right cascade falling behind her. It vanishes behind a rock and her swirling
draperies. The waterfall reappears at her left side before it drops behind some
large rocks of various brown hues in the lower right corner. Her draperies are
as active as those of Hylas' mantle but in a more sinuous way; swooping from
below her right shoulder beneath her bare breasts, then dividing at her elbow
into two parts which flutter behind her. The water from which she emerges is
depicted by blue, black, and white horizontal stripes which cluster together
to create formalized wavelets. These rigid representations extend toward the
bottom of the mosaic and spread out between the rocks in each lower corner.
Along the bottom below the rectilinear breakers, but above the frame, is more
calcification which blurs the tessarae in this area. cornucopia flares at the
top. This nymph also wears jewelry.
There have been other representations
of the fate of Hylas which have been assembled and discussed by Professor Roger
Ling.n All of the five Pompeian paintings of the subject which he has collected
are different in some way from the Site 10 emblema. Though there are some minor
similarities, these versions of the Rape of Hylas are basically dissimilar to
the mosaic of our Roman villa. Professor Ling's first listed example is a painting
from Pompeii (House IX 7,16) which shows a landscape with a high mountain, some
trees and a few more distant smaller peaks nearby. In the foreground is a small
scale group of Hylas standing in the water beset by three nymphs. A female figure
reclines in the middle ground. As a landscape with figures this painting seems
somewhat related to the landscapes with the Laestryganes of the Odyssey frieze.
Professor Ling places this painting of Hylas in early third style, late Augustan.
This work does not correspond closely to the Site 10 mosaic in terms of scale,
and action. The second Pompeian painting is quite different from the first (Pompeii
I 7. 19). The figures occupy a good deal more of the picture plane and Hylas
is placed as the central figure but moving to the right. From the left side
of the picture a nymph freely dropped, grasps his right arm and shoulder. Another
nymph also loosely robed has seized Hylas around the waist and a third approaches
Hylas form the right and reaches for his left arm and tries to grab his water
jar. A wall of rocks behind this gorup obscures all but the head and shoulders
of a male observer on the left side near the top. In the right upper corner
of the painting rises a trilithon. It is Late third style: Claudian or early
Neronian according to Ling.
A third painting from Pompeii
(VII 13,19) in the triclinium is completely washed out but survives in an old
drawing. Three nymphs attack Hylas on the left side of the picture, one of them,
a naiad, rises from the water and grabs his right leg. He leans away from them
drastically to the right of the picture. There are no figures at his left side.
Ling dates it late third style after Schefold, Claudian as early Neronian.
Painting number four, Pompeii
VII 4,62, is similar in design to number 3 except that the water is in the foreground.
In the background on the right side are two male figures on a hillock observing
the attack. According to Ling this painting is late third style, Claudian or
Neronian. The last of the five paintings has a horizontal composition. It comes
form a building known as the Basilica in Herculanium and is in poor condition.
The pool was set amongst some trees, Hylas has made his way deep into the water,
his arms flailing as he tries to shift to the right holding the water jug. THree
nude nymphs attack him while on the right side hesitates a naked Hercules with
his right hand at his mouth. The horizontal form of the painting makes it unlikely
to be modeled after the same prototype as the Site 10 emblema. Some representations
of the demise of Hylas have been executed in stucco relief.n None of these are
preserved well enough to make a parallel to the Site 10 mosaic or even the fine
Pompeian paintings already describes. The stuccos are all oriented horizontally.
The one element common to all representations is the figure of Hylas struggling
to get away from the nymphs. On three of the stuccos he strains to the left.
The rest are to the right. The poses of the nymphs with one possible exception
(This discussion of the Hylas Emblema
remained unfinished at the time of Philip Oliver-Smith's death, the fifth of