c. 450-520 A.D.
Mosaic of stone tesserae
111 x 114 in. (281.9 x 289.6 cm)
Purchase, 1937 (4672) Conservation treatment funded by the Academy Guild
This mosaic was excavated from one of many villas in Daphne, the luxurious garden suburb of Antioch near the present-day border between Turkey and Syria. Founded in 300 B.C., Antioch had become by the fourth century A.D. one of the major cosmopolitan centers of the ancient world along with Rome, Constantinople, and Alexandria. Sophisticated mosaics that modified and/or adapted Greek and Roman traditions decorated its public and private spaces. This mosaic is in the so-called carpet style in which figures and other pictorial motifs appear across a neutral ground. Its square composition consists of a striding lion at center surrounded by other animals in combat: a tigress and her cub pursue a stag; a lioness chases a pair of rams; a leopard attacks an ostrich; and a zebu confronts a bear. A hare and various birds appear as space fillers. The animals' anatomy is suggested through the careful placement of the tesserae (colored stone tiles); the subtle juxtaposition of different colors, which shift from dark to light, produce contrast and a tangible sense of contour, giving the animals solidity and vitality. The selection of animals recalls the taste for wild-beast hunts and other spectacles that were presented in Roman arenas.