I’ve had an obsession with mosaics ever since I can remember: there’s something so intricate about making things out of litle shapes that somehow all seem to fit together perfectly to form something bigger than themselves. I could go all philosophical and Gestalt-theory on you here, but I won’t. Let’s agree that they’re beautiful to look at, and admire the work, time and vision that goes into making them, and call it a day.
Before mobile phone cameras, Facebook and smartphones, before I became a designer, and before I knew how much more of the world I would discover, I went to Rome.
I’ll never forget the pure awe of waking around the immense Carcalla baths, looking down, and realizing I was walking on the same thousands-of-years-old mosaics that the Romans had actually walked on on their way to their bath parties!!! Best mosaic experience I had had up until then. In the future I would discover unfogettable mosaics around the world: Barcelona’s Parc Guell, Hanoi, New York, Lisbon’s (like pretty much all of it!) sidewalks, Cordobà, Morocco, and on and on and on….For the sake of time, I’ll share the ones that struck me the most: Pompeii and Sicily.
In Pompeii, there are still remnants of the grander household’s floor mosaics, usually featuring a dog and intricate geometric patterns to greet, impress, or scare guests away.
You won’t see as many mosaics on the site of the town that was ruined by the catastrophic volcano eruption in 79 AD, but you WILL see many, many almost perfectly preserved mosaics of all shapes, sizes and motifs at the Naples Archaeological Museum. Set aside at least a day for this, and you will not be disappointed. When looking not only at the beauty of these mosaics, but also regular household items preserved along with them, you will begin to get a picture of the level of sophistication and culture that Pompeiian society had attained, two thousand years before us.
Following my trip to Pompeii and Naples last year, I was so inspired that I was itching to make mosaics of my own – but I thought: how cool would it be to to take mosaics and do something completely unexpected with them? Let’s see if we can wear them.
And so, I got working. Along the way I discovered that drawing mosaics takes a really, really long time. Aside from being fun to do, it also became a sort of meditative practice that replaced my regular meditation – this worked out well, since I no longer had time for this, since I was busy drawing mosaics.
This year, I went to Sicily. I brought my mosaic scarf with me, without expecting the magnificent mosaic mecca that was waiting for me on this adventure.
Like I’ve said in earlier posts, because our Sicily trip was actually supposed to be a Peru trip, I didn’t have time to research Sicily-anything beforehand, which meant that I was not aware of, or expecting the cultural and artistic richness and grandure that IS Sicily.
I admit that I was not aware of the complexity and richness of its history, so I did not know that due to its geographical position in the middle of the Mediterranean, its culture, food, art, architecture and history were so heavily influenced by so many others: the Carthagenians, Greeks, Romans, African and Oriental cultures. Which is great, because having no expectations usually means that you are pleasantly surprised. Man, was I ever.
In Palermo, there is the Palazzo dei Normanni with its golden leopard pagan mosaics, and there are many many others, but the place that struck me the most is The Villa Romana del Casale, in central Sicily.
This is a Roman villa from the 4th century that was inhabited for 150 years (the respective owners are still under debate, as nobody knows for sure), completely buried under a landslide in the 1100’s AD, and re-discovered and subsequently excavated in the 1950’s. The many mosaics in this villa were most certainly made by African designers and artists.
What I find the most interesting about these mosaics is that they give us a very good idea of the lifestyle of this particular class of people at a given point in time, and depict various aspects of their lives: hunting, fishing, bathing, eating, sports activities and relaxing. As opposed to later religious mosaics, these focus more on daily life, which seemed to be pretty damn sweet for the rich.
They seemed to have all the time in the world to pursue all kinds of activities – the bikini girl mosaics are particulartly interesting, and are the source of much debate and fascination, not least owing to the fact that they are quite rare in their modernity (girls in bikinis!!!). The most accepted theory is that these women are performing sports, and that they are wearing athletic sportswear versus leisurley swimwear.
The mosaics in The Villa Romana del Casale are on another level. It’s hard to describe in words and pictures the awe I felt stepping through rooms that were once inhabited by real people, wandering what it must have been like for them to be surrounded by all this beauty. I’m not just talking pictures on a wall, I’m talking an entire villa (which is actually more like the size of a palace) COVERED in mosaic art. Floor to ceiling, wall to wall. What must that have been like for them?
I guess I’ll never know, but one thing I do know for sure is that there are some future Sicilian-inspired designs brewing in the near future 😉
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