|Mosaic of Zeus and Ganymede, Roman, mid-Imperial, 2nd century A.D.|
On loan from a private collection, Belgium
(Metropolitan Museum of Art)
As I stood before it, I was mesmerized and couldn't move for quite some time. Every time I made a move to leave I some new detail, a different type of flower, a lizard or a critter caught my eye. The scroll work, the realistic shading, the colors, the shapes all worked to form an exquisite work of art that deserved to be taken in slowly, with a loving eye.
Finally, after about fifteen minutes, I was able to tear myself away which is when I realized this had been my Slow Art Day. I had just stood in front of a work of art for a prolonged period of time caught within the web of its transcendent beauty. As an afterthought I glanced at the gallery label to see where it was from. The story is as follows:
Ganymede offering a drink to Zeus, who is in the guise of an eagle, is one of the most popular mythological scenes in classical art, especially in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Here it is rendered in a polychrome floor panel of stone and glass tesserae created by a mosaicist called Neikias, who signed his work in Greek at bottom. Equally impressive is the ornate floral scroll surrounding the panel, highlighted against a black background. The clever use of shading imparts a sense of realism to the tendrils and flowers, further enlivened by assorted insects, reptiles, and birds that inhabit the scroll. The painterly quality of the imagery attests to Neikias' skill as a master craftsman. Mosaic floors of this quality would only be in the luxurious houses of the wealthy. Given the Greek inscription and comparable examples found at Antioch, Syria, this mosaic is probably from the eastern half of the Roman Empire. *
This floor mosaic will stop anyone in their tracks without any need for gallery labels or details about the iconography. As a matter of fact, I think it would be a great adventure to stand before this with a child and let them take you on their own world of discovery, a dream I plan to realize at the earliest opportunity. For those with access, this panel alone is worth a visit to the Met, to say nothing of all the figures and artifacts from Roman history surrounding the visitor in this grand sculpture court (nothing can beat the in-person experience.) In the meanwhile, I urge you to stay awhile and observe the details, you might be surprised at what you will find.
* Gallery Label - this panel is located in Gallery 162, The Roman Sculpture Court of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City