Here’s a detail of the aforementioned 4th century Roman mosaic at Woodchester. This photo shows the original, and you can see there’s a significant amount of damage to the mosaic – about 40% in total. Most of the damage was caused by grave digging in the 18th century.
The replica gives you an idea of how spectacular the original would have looked. It was the floor of the main reception room of the villa and measured 14.5m square. The theme was a common Roman subject: Orpheus charming the animals and birds with his beautiful music.
Centuries later the Orpheus myth had evolved in to a Christian theme – Christ portrayed as the Good Shepherd – and the subject was shown on walls instead of floors. After all, it wouldn’t have been appropriate to walk over Jesus!
I’m intrigued by the similarities between artistic cultures. The circle of animals shows a mixture of wild, feral and mythical creatures, including a gryphon. Whilst working on my ancient Egypt project, I visited the tombs at Beni Hassan. On the walls were images of wild, feral and mythical creatures, including a gryphon. The painted hunting scenes in ancient Egyptian art were later depicted in mosaic, and indeed the introduction of the tesserae technique may well have originated in Alexandria.
Wildlife in Art – what a rich and wonderful heritage.