The Lod Mosaic, a 1,700-year-old Roman mosaic from the Eastern Roman Empire in what is now Israel, will go on display in the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University on February 10, 2016.
Discovered in 1996 by construction workers who were digging to widen a road, the third-century CE (Common Era) mosaic was rescued by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). Entitled “Predators and Prey,” it is notable for its subject matter, its size, and its outstanding degree of preservation.
Eng. Jacques Neguer, a conservator who heads the IAA’s art conservation section, says it is the world’s largest ancient Roman mosaic. It covers an area of about 650 square meters (6,996.5 square feet).
What you will see
Neguer explains that the IAA divided the mosaic into 30 “fragments” for relative ease of handling and study. Seven of these fragments, totaling 32 square meters (344.4 square feet), have traveled the world during the past three years.
The exhibit has made nine previous stops, including the Louvre in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. At these venues, a total of more than 1.1 million people viewed the mosaic.
Neguer says its Miami visit also will include an eighth “monster fragment” that has never before traveled outside of Israel. It is 6.5 meters (21.3 feet) long.
Visitors to the exhibition will see two rectangular end panels surrounding a large square central medallion. Featured are indigenous animals coexisting with ferocious wild creatures such as lions and tigers, an elephant, a giraffe, an Asian water buffalo, plus marine life, a sea monster, and merchant ships. Remarkably, the mosaic contains no images of human beings or deities.
An immense journey
Taking the Lod Mosaic on the road is an undertaking of immense proportions, Neguer says. Archaeologists have calculated that it contains more than two million ancient tiles called tesserae.
“The display travels in fragments. When it is dismantled after an exhibition, some of the tesserae fall out,” Neguer says. “At the next stop, we reglue them again and make the connecting lines disappear. This takes about five days.”
In Miami, Neguer and his deputy conservator, Ghaleb Abu Diab, transported the crated mosaic sections to the Frost Museum, opened the crates, and installed their contents with proper leverage on the floor of the museum’s largest gallery. After replacing the loose tesserae, they reconnected the fragments and cleaned the mosaic with water and sponges.
A long history
Modern-day Lod is a city of 70,000-plus population, located 50 kilometers (31 miles) northwest of Jerusalem, 26 kilometers (16.2 miles) southeast of Tel Aviv, and 11.7 kilometers (7.3 miles) southeast of Israel’s main airport, Ben Gurion International Airport. It occupies the site of the ancient city of Lydda, established in Biblical times after the end of the Babylonian Exile in 538 BCE (Before the Common Era).
Located on a fertile plain along the Via Maris, an important trade route from Egypt to Syria and Mesopotamia, Lydda became a center of culture and craft production. The Romans destroyed it in 66 CE during the first Jewish-Roman War. Later it was rebuilt as Diospolis, the “city of Zeus.” Around 200 CE, the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus made it a Roman colony.
Archaeologists believe the Lod Mosaic was created as the floor of a large audience room, in a grand villa owned by a wealthy Roman merchant whose trade route crossed between Jerusalem and the Mediterranean.
The Lod Mosaic will remain on view at FIU through May 15. The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum is at 10975 S.W. 17th Street on the university’s Maidique Campus. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m., closed Mondays. Admission is free.
This is likely to be your last chance to see the Lod Mosaic anywhere outside of Israel. After its visit to Miami, the traveling fragments will become part of a museum now in the planning and permitting stage in the City of Lod, the Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Center. That museum “will expose the entire mosaic within its archaeological site,” Neguer says.