Saturday, February 13, 2016

1,700-year-old Roman Mosaic in Miami


At the FrostArt Museum at FIU in Miami, Florida, through May 15, 2016, is an opportunity to see an extraordinarily well-preserved 3rd century floor mosaic: Predators and Prey: A Roman Mosaic from Lod, Israel. Adding to its interest value is that it holds an unresolved mystery:  Why are there no deities or human beings portrayed, among the menagerie of exotic animals? This is extremely rare for such a large floor mosaic from the time period.

The Lod Mosaic dates to when the town of Lod was a part of the Roman Empire. The amazingly detailed mosaic is thought to have been the floor of a large audience room, in a sumptuous villa owned by a Roman merchant whose trade route crossed between Jerusalem and the Mediterranean. The town of Lod stands on the site of the ancient city of Lydda, which developed in a fertile plain on an important trade route, the Via Maris, from Egypt to Syria and Mesopotamia. As this mosaic attests, it was a center of culture and craft production.

Archaeologists have calculated that more than two million tesserae (mosaic tiles) were used to create the 1,700-year-old masterwork. Three panels from the excavation are included in the exhibition, two rectangular end-panels surrounding a large square central medallion. Featured are indigenous animals coexisting with ferocious wild creatures such as lions and tigers (oh my!), an elephant and a giraffe, and Asian water buffalo, plus marine life, a sea monster and merchant ships.

Learn more about the Lod Mosaic at

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Picasso thinks I'm barking up the wrong tree.

El Santo, painted in 1919 by Marsden Hartley (1877 – 1943), drew me in the first time I saw it at the New Mexico Museum of Art ... I kept returning to it, and had to sneak one last look before leaving the gallery. 

Back to the exhibition twice more, and El Santo each time had the same effect. Stede Barber and I have discussed it at length ... and frankly, I STILL don't know exactly what it is about it that makes it so vivid for me. 

Picasso would have said I should stop trying to explain it and just enjoy the experience of it.  "Everyone wants to understand art," he said. "Why not try to understand the song of a bird? Why does one love the night, flowers, everything around one, without trying to understand them? ... People who try to explain pictures are usually barking up the wrong tree." 

But there's a difference between the natural song of a bird and the human hand and mind involved in creating art. Why did Hartley arrange this still life as he did, choose that textile and that color palette ?  Why is the painting-within-the-painting tilted?  Did it happen to be on the wall that way, and he simply liked the effect? Or did the artist cause it to tilt, thinking to strengthen the composition?  I accept Picasso's statement that "an artists works of necessity", but I know too many intelligent, skilled, highly-trained artists to accept that their creative process flows without thought. Subconscious, yes. Thoughtless, no.  And it is the artist's thought process that intrigues me. I like the "wonder" of it.