“Geometric pattern,” Roman, Syria, 4th–5th century CE
“Male head” (detail), Roman, Syria, 4th–5th century CE
Ancient Mosaics on Display at Hallie Ford Museum of Art
Organized by museum Director John Olbrantz, the exhibition includes pieces drawn from the Richard Brockway collection of Vero Beach, Fla.
The show features five mosaic fragments that date from the 3rd to 6th centuries CE: two geometric mosaics that might have once graced a house, bath, mausoleum or church; two figurative mosaics of an unidentified standing male figure and a nature spirit that may have been part of a town or country house; and an animal mosaic depicting two deer that might have come from a domestic or church context.
Mosaic is an art form that uses small pieces of colored stones and glass, called tessera (plural: tesserae), to create designs or pictures set in cement.
In antiquity, mosaics were created exclusively to decorate architectural surfaces such as floors, walls and vaults, and examples have been found in a wide variety of contexts, including palaces, houses, baths, mausoleums, synagogues and churches.
Some scholars have argued that mosaic floors were inspired by carpets, while others have suggested that they mimicked painted, wooden or stucco relief ceiling decoration.
Mosaic floors became widespread during Roman times. As Rome expanded its boundaries from the first century BCE to the first and early second centuries CE, the practice of mosaic making spread throughout Europe and the ancient Mediterranean region, extending to Spain, Gaul (France), Britain, Germany, North Africa and Syria.
As the art form spread, each geographic region developed its own regional style and repertoire. The mosaic floors of Roman Syria, for example, are characterized by lush colors, mythological or figurative scenes, inscriptions and illusionistic motifs inspired by architectural details.
In addition to the mosaic fragments on display, the exhibition is accompanied by text panels on ancient mosaics; a map showing the major cities and archaeological sites in Roman Syria; annotated labels; and a full-color brochure, written by Olbrantz, on the mosaic pavements of Roman Syria, with an emphasis on the mosaic fragments in the Brockway collection.
A second animal mosaic depicting a charming goat is also on display as part of the permanent reinstallation of the Mark and Janeth Sponenburgh Gallery.
Ancient Mosaics: Selections from the Richard Brockway Collection has been supported in part by grants from the Center for Ancient Studies and Archaeology at Willamette University, the City of Salem's Transient Occupancy Tax funds and the Oregon Arts Commission.
The Hallie Ford Museum of Art is located at 700 State St. (corner of State and Cottage streets) in downtown Salem near the campus of Willamette University. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. The galleries are closed Monday. Admission is $3 for adults and $2 for seniors and students. Children younger than 12 are admitted free, and Tuesday is an admission-free day. For more information, call 503-370-6855 or visit the Hallie Ford Museum of Art website.