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Collection

Mosaics

The mosaics, which were removed during the Bourbon excavations from the houses of the Vesuvian cities, form one of the most extensive museum collections in the world. The mosaics displaying the most refined workmanship are the small pictures signed by Dioskourides of Samos, the one with the famous Memento Mori, and the extraordinary mosaic columns in glass paste.

History and formationMost of the floor mosaics made with black and white tesserae found in Pompeii and Herculaneum were used towards the mid-eighteenth century for the floors of the new Bourbon royal buildings, such as the Museo Ercolanese in the Villa of Portici, the Royal Palace of Capodimonte and the Palazzo degli Studi, which eventually became the Real Museo Borbonico in 1816; however, the rarer and more highly appreciated mosaic portraits which gradually came to light were initially displayed with the gems and other precious objects in a sort of “room of wonders”. In 1826, the then director of the museum Michele Arditi decided to display the mosaics together with the ancient paintings in a small room placed in the eastern wing of the ground floor, where they remained for about a century. The discovery in Pompeii of the House of the Faun between 1830 and 1832 injected new life into the collection which, in the display arranged between 1910 and 1924 by Vittorio Spinazzola, was separated from the frescoes and displayed according to materials and technique in the current position in the western mezzanine. The new display of 2001, separated into five zones in rooms LIV - LIX, follows this approach. RouteIn the first room of the collection (room LVII) there are several works which merit special attention: a mosaic depicting a dog with a chain from Pompeii, two inlaid slabs from the House of the Coloured Capitals (VII, 4, 31) from Pompeii, with Maenads and Satyrs in Dionysian scenes, Aphrodite tying her sandal, also from Pompeii (I, 2, 10), and a display case with two obsidian cups from the so-called Villa di San Marco at Stabiae, with Egyptian-style depictions. Apart from the presence of the famous mosaic columns from the villa of the same name in Pompeii, room LVIII also contains several mosaics in painted glass paste, used to decorate nymphaeums or fountains, and mainly to decorate the floors of Roman houses: see, for example, the mosaic with Frixus and Ellie from the so-called Villa of San Marco at Stabiae, or the niche of the nymphaeum from the House of the Skeleton (III, 3) from Herculaneum. In the following room LIX, visitors can admire two of the oldest mosaics in the museum, the “witch” and the “travelling musicians” from the so-called Villa of Cicero at Pompeii. Dating to the beginning of the third century BC and both signed by the mosaicist Dioskourides of Samos, they actually represent scenes from the New Comedy. The same room also contains other well-known mosaics, such as the “Academy of Plato”, otherwise known as the “Representation of the Seven Wise Men”, from the villa di T. Siminius Stephanus at Pompeii, a scene of birds drinking from the edge of a basin from Santa Maria Capua Vetere, dating to the late first century BC and the mosaic with the words “Memento mori” (Remember Death) from Pompeii (I, 5, 2), depicting Death the Great Leveller who cancels the differences between rich and poor. Lastly, room LXIV contains a mosaic depicting aquatic fauna from the Pompeian house VIII, 2, 16, and, above all, an extremely rare and realistic female portrait from House VI, 15, 14 in Pompeii.

Further information
Collection data
Bibliography:

Sampaolo 1989a; De Caro 1994; De Caro 1999; De Caro 2001a.

Location: Mezzanine floor; rooms LVII -LIX, LXIV