Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Zenobia on the Queen of Sheba

Whoever laid this mosaic worked neither quickly nor cheaply. Nagar believes the mosaic master was world-famous, and from the zoological repertoire, came from North Africa. Commissioned for this job, he would have arrived with a small entourage of assistants.
After his patron - probably a wealthy merchant - picked the designs from a catalogue, the master would begin planning. The space was leveled and then overlaid with stones and pieces of limestone for strength, followed by two layers of plaster. The master would then sketch the design with pigment powder and his assistants, artists in their own right, would begin the Sisyphean work of laying the tiny stones.

The floor is made of some two million such tesserae, measuring about 0.8 cm each. All were naturally colored and interspersed with pieces of glass especially made for the mosaic, and some were gilded. "That means the hall was not used by crowds - you don't use stones like that where a lot of people were walking," Nagar says.