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Mosaic depicting a sitting dog

Mosaic depicting a sitting dog
© BA Antiquities Museum/M. Nafea


Antiquities of the BA Site

Mosaic depicting a sitting dog

Category:
Architecture, architectural components, mosaics
Date:
Graeco-Roman Period, Ptolemaic Period, 2nd cent. BCE
Provenance:
Lower Egypt, Alexandria, El Shatby, Bibliotheca Alexandrina Site
Material(s):
  • Rock, marble
  • Rock, limestone
Length:
3.25 m;
Width:
3.25 m
Hall:
Antiquities of the BA Site


Description

A floor mosaic using tesserae made of minute stone cubes, ranging from one to four millimetres in the opus vermiculatum technique.

The central medallion or emblem carries the picture of a dog, the first time ever such a motif is found on a floor mosaic in Alexandria. The dog is resting on his hind legs close to an upturned Greek vessel. The naturalistic image expresses strength and vitality, which points to the fine ability of the artist in using this medium to achieve clarity of design and definition. The fell of the dog, its spots and red collar are executed very precisely. The main colours in this medallion include black, white and yellow, yet the artist was able to convey light and shade in a brilliant manner. The angle of the dog's portrait is at three quarters, and the front part reflects light, while the rest of the body is in the shade. The gradation of shading on the upturned bronze pot shows light reflected on the central part, while the sides are gradually darker. The artist has indeed been able to express great depth in a 'hard' medium and this mosaic is a testament to the sophistication of mosaic workshops and artistry in ancient Alexandria.

Perhaps the theme on this floor is a scene of a theatrical story or from a literary work of art of Alexandria during the first three centuries B.C. However, the mosaic does not provide us with a clear idea as to the place where it was housed, but we can deduct that its shape was circular and about three metres in diameter, with this medallion as its centrepiece.

Mosaic

The Greeks used mosaics to decorate their floors in public places and private dwellings by using tesserae in many ways. Tesserae are the small pieces of stone, limestone, marble, glass or clay, which are cut in a small cubic form, hence their name. The Greek floor coverings became a complete tableau depicting plants, animals, geometrical designs and Greek/ Hellenistic motifs.

The Romans adopted also this art to cover their floors in homes and temples, as well as in their tombs. The Romans applied the same techniques of the Greeks. They also introduced new innovations in the manufacturing process.

The most ancient piece of mosaic was discovered in the East, in Ancient Iraq. It is from the Uruk civilization which dates back to 4000 years BC. Mosaic art disappeared after that time and reappeared again at the beginning of the 5th Century BC.


The information given here is subject to modification/update as a result of ongoing research.

References
  • Zahi Hawass, ed., Bibliotheca Alexandrina: The Archaeology Museum (Cairo: The Supreme Council of Antiquities, 2002): 53.
  • Anne-Marie Guimier-Sorbets, “Alexandrie: les mosaïques hellénistiques découvertes sur le terrain de la nouvelle Bibliotheca Alexandrina”, Revue Archéologique, no. 2 (1998): 263-290.
  • Anne-Marie Guimier-Sorbets, “Les mosaïques”, in La gloire d'Alexandrie: Exposition, Paris, musée du petit palais, 7 mai-26 juillet 1998 (Paris: Association française d'action artistique, 1998): 230, no. 177.
  • Anne-Marie Guimier-Sorbets, “Mosaics of Alexandria”, in Alexandria, Real and Imagined, edited by Anthony Hirst and Michael Silk, Publications for the Centre for Hellenic Studies. King's College London (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004): 67-78, fig. 4.4.
  • Carroll Moulton, ed., “Mosaic”, in Ancient Greece and Rome: An Encyclopedia for Students, vol. 2 (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Macmillan, 1998).
  • François Queyrel, “Le chien au conge d’Alexandrie”, Études et Travaux 25 (2012): 320-337.
  • Doreya Said and Ahmed Abd El-Fattah, “Découvertes Récentes dans le Quartier Royal Ptolémaïque de L'Ancienne Alexandrie dans la Zone de la «Bibliotheca Alexandrina»”, Le Monde Copte 23 (1993): 111-117.
  • Dorreya Saïd, “Deux mosaïques hellénistiques récemment découvertes à Alexandrie”, Bulletin de l'Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale (BIFAO) 94 (1994): 377-380.
  • Doreya Said and Ahmed Abd El-Fattah, “Découvertes archéologiques dans le quartier royal ptolémaïque de l’Ancienne Alexandrie”, Égypte, Afrique et Orient 6 (1997): 19-22.
  • Mona Serry, ed., Bibliotheca Alexandrina: Antiquities Museum, introduction by Ismail Serageldin (Alexandria: Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Antiquities Museum, 2015): 127-128, 131, 323.
  • عبير قاسم، فن الفسيفساء الروماني: المناظر الطبيعية (الإسكندرية: ملتقى الفكر، 1999).
  • عزيزة سعيد محمود، التصوير-الموزايكو-الاستكو في الفن الروماني (الإسكندرية، 1999).
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