This month’s masterpiece from Hadrian’s Villa is a series of heavily restored mosaic panels depicting bucolic scenes with animals.
The first panel depicts a rocky landscape with a flock of goats peacefully grazing by a stream. A bronze statue dressed in a long tunic is standing on a rock. It holds a bunch of grapes in its right hand and a thyrsus in its left hand. The statue is probably an image of the god Dionysus meant to evoke a sacral-idyllic landscape. Dionysus was also considered to be a god of fertility. A human phallus seems to be represented on the tablet next to the statue. The phallus symbolised his power, the ability to create new life, but also served as an anti-evil-eye apotropaic.
The second mosaic panel is very similar. It depicts a group of five goats by a stream, but the figure of the god is seated in a rustic sanctuary.
The third panel features a lion attacking a wild bull while another bull looks on with fear.
These panels formed part of the floor decoration of a building in the Imperial Palace complex known today as the Sala a Tre Navate (Hall with Three Aisles). It belongs to the Villa’s second phase of construction (AD 125 – 134). The building consisted of a vestibule that led to a triclinium with two rows of columns and a small rectangular niche. This type of room was called “oecus corinthius” by Vitruvius. It was a kind of colonnade with a vaulted ceiling in the central part and a smooth ceiling over the external ambulatory.
The vestibule contained the extraordinary emblema depicting a pair of centaurs attacked by wild cats (see full post here).
Today, the three mosaic panels with bucolic scenes are on public display in the Vatican Museums in Rome, in the rooms Gabinetto delle Maschere (Cabinet of Masks) and Sala degni Animali (Halls of the Animals). The Centaur mosaic is in the Altes Museum in Berlin.
- Greek and Roman Mosaics by Umberto Pappalardo (2012, Abbeville Press)
- Hadrian’s Villa Guide by Adembri Benedetta (2004, Electa)