Battle of Issus between Alexander and Darius III
The mosaic, the largest in the House of the Faun in Pompeii, made with the use of about one million tesserae, depicts the battle of Issus fought between Alexander the Great and Darius III in 333 BC; it marked the end of the Persian Empire.
The mosaic, on the left side, shows Alexander who, astride his horse Bucephalus, leads his men against the fleeing Persians. Opposite Alexander towers the figure of Darius on his retreating war chariot. Between the two is a Persian prince who displays his loyalty by using his body to shield his king, while a soldier offers him his own horse, thus condemning himself to certain death.
The use of opus vermiculatum (a technique of mosaic which uses very small tesserae) enabled the craftsman to render all the effects of luminosity, the changes in colour, the details of the armour and the faces, and even the moods.
The mosaic in the I Pompeian style, which was found in the House of the Faun in Pompeii, present a frame with vegetal elements, drinking vessels, flying cupids, birds and other animals, and portrays some varieties of edible fish of the Mediterranean Sea.
On the lower right corner and in the middle of the left side is a coastal landscape, on which a kingfisher is lying in wait. Around the central scene, which depicts a fight between an octopus and a lobster, there is a large number of fish, among which a crayfish, a mullet, a sea bass, a murex shell, a moray, a scorpion-fish, a gilthead bream and a ray.
The representation of red-figured marine fauna, already widespread on Attic and especially Italiot fish plates, was developed and enriched in Hellenistic times.
This mosaic gives an indication of the penetration of this culture in Samnite Pompeii, probably with the mediation of Roman seaside villas along the Gulf of Naples.
Cat fighting against a cock, ducks, fish and shells
The mosaic, which was found in the House of the Faun, is made up of three registers.
In the upper one there is a scene of genre (a cat with speckled and streaked hairs in the act of catching a cock the legs of which are tied with a red cord), in the middle one a Nilotic painting an in the lower one a still life.
The accuracy with which the single elements are portrayed makes it possible to classify the cat as a cat belonging to an Egyptian breed extremely rare in the Italic Peninsula in the second century BC. This element, together with the presence of the Nilotic painting, contributes to strengthen the hypothesis that craftsmen of an Alexandrian mosaic workshop worked in the House.
The mosaic, which was found between 1749 and 1763 in the so-called Villa of Cicero in Pompeii, dates between the second century and the beginning of the first century BC (199 – 80 BC). It portrays a group of four characters, probably the metragyrtai of the cult of Cybele that are moving on the podium of a stage and are probably going, while playing, to the house, the front door of which is visible on the right corner. They are wearing the masks of three characters of the New Comedy: the timbal player is indeed the parasitos, next to him there is the kolax, the flatterer, recognizable by the prominent nose and the relaxed and flourishing face, intent on playing the tambourines and, just behind him, the diamitros etaira, the double flute player, followed by a child or a dwarf unmasked wearing ruffled hair and a short tunic, intent on playing a sort of horn.
The scene is probably based on one of Menander’s comedies entitled “Theophorumene” (The possessed person).
Academy of Plato / Seven philosophers
The mosaic in the I Pompeian style portrays the meeting of seven philosophers. Each of them is wearing the characteristic robe of Greek orators and philosophers of the classical period, except one who is also wearing a chiton. The third from the left might be Plato, the first from the left might be Heraclides Pontico, the second Lysias, the second-last on the right Senocrates, while the last on the right might be Aristotle in the act of going away holding a roll in the left hand.
In the background it is possible to recognize the acropolis of Athens with the Parthenon. Around the seven figures are depicted, from left to right, a portal with two columns and an epistyle surmounted by four covered vases (symbols of Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy and Music or the four Seasons of the year or the positions of the Sun), a tree and a votive column with a sundial, typical of a completely mythological landscape, without any specific geographic reference. The theme clearly refers to the literary and philosophical interests of the owner of the villa and probably derives from a late-Hellenistic model.
The mosaic, found in the House of the Faun in Pompeii, was the central part of the threshold (divided into three parts by two red painted columns in imitation of Egyptian porphyry) of the exedra where the mosaic of Alexander was placed.
A violet border frames a Nilotic landscape: on a waterway swim six ducks, while three couples of animals, an ichneumon and a cobra, a hippo and a crocodile and finally two ibises fight on the sandy bank where some grass is sprouting.
The subject of the mosaic was probably chosen by the client, as it referred to Egypt conquered by Alexander the Great.
The connection with the mosaic that adorns the exedra is confirmed by the representation of the three fighting couples of animals that refer to the theme of the fight among opponents, even if it is not possible to exclude that the two ibises crossing their beaks portray a man and a woman in the preliminaries of a loving approach.
The statuette was found, between 1830 and 1832, in the House of the Faun, the biggest domus gentilizia brought to light in Pompeii, which is named after it.
The bronze statuette, which can be dated to around the second half of the first century BC (49 -1 BC), portrays a bearded naked male figure, with his head thrown back and his eyes looking up at the sky, his tail and hair sculptured in thick flowing locks. He is shown in the act of performing a dance step. The goat horns on the head and the small tail clearly identify the figure as a Faun, or Pan, or Satyr. The refined workmanship of this statuette refers to centre of Hellenistic production, most probably of Alexandria.
On the back of the base: PCIXX. It is possible to find such indications on metal objects, since it is the weight record, engraved with a triangular point, probably on the occasion of the passing of property of a purchase.
Portrait of a woman
The mosaic, which was found in the tablinum of the House VI, 15,4 in Pompeii, dates back to the Julio-Claudian period, that is to the first half of the first century AD (1 -49 AD).
The portrait reproduces the real features of a Pompeian woman of high rank: the serene face is framed by bright dark hair, parted in two symmetrical bands gathered up on the nape, according to the style of the period; the lobes are adorned with pearl earrings and the neck with a string of pearls with a pendant in gold and precious stones. The features of the woman are realistic and not typified, such as the shape of the nose slightly curved and light asymmetries between the two halves of the face.
These differences, quite evident in the comparison of the two eyes only one of which with bags and wrinkles, have induced some people to suppose that the woman had been portrayed in two different periods of her life; on the contrary, they are probably referable only to the use of different tesserae.
The mosaic, which was found between 1749 and 1763 in the so-called Villa of Cicero in Pompeii, portrays a group of four masked characters, that are moving on the podium of a stage, and represents a theatrical scene based on the repertoire of the New Comedy.
It depicts two women wearing a himation (tunic) and a chiton (cloak), the former on the right side is seen in profile, the latter in the middle of the mosaic is front seen. They are sitting on chairs round a small circular three-legged table with ritual silver objects. The chair in the foreground is covered with a checked cloth with bows and a soft cushion. On the right side is a witch, front depicted, dressed in a similar way, who is showing a magic potion in a silver cup. On the far right-hand side of the scene is visible a child wearing a short tunic.
The chiaroscuro, that requires a masterly use of each colour in different shades, and the shadows remind an Alexandrine original of the third century BC signed by Dioskourides Samios.
The mosaic in the second Pompeian style, embedded in the floor of the summer triclinium of the House 1, 5, 2 in Pompeii, portrays, in an allegoric and symbolic way, the philosophical theme of Hellenistic origin of the transience of life and impending death. The climax of the scene is a level with its plumb line, a tool used by bricklayers to control the levelling of constructions.
The axis of the plumb line is Death (the skull), under which there is a butterfly (the soul) balancing on a wheel (Fortune). Beneath the arms of the level, opposing and perfectly balancing, are the symbols of poverty on the right (the pack-saddle, the beggar’s stick and the cloak) and of wealth on the left (the scepter, the purple and the crown).
It is necessary to point out the artist’s skill in using tesserae of different colour to give greater accuracy and characterization to the elements of the composition.