Lod Mosaic at the Legion of Honor San Francisco

April 22, 2011

We are delighted to tell you that on Saturday, April 23, "Marvelous Menagerie: A Roman Mosaic from Lod, Israel” opened at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Legion of Honor.  This will be the second stop in a multi-city exhibition of this Roman period masterpiece which is on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Center.

The “Roman Mosaic from Lod, Israel” exhibition opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC in October where it was curated by Dr. Christopher Lightfoot from the Department of Greek and Roman Art.  The Met exhibit was a huge success, visited by 271,524 people, making it one of the most successful traveling exhibitions from Israel.  Lectures, a roundtable, guided tours, reviews and publications accompanied the exhibit at the Met, and we are thrilled by the warm response and continued support from the public and the Met Museum. A wonderful opening reception, made possible by Estanne and Martin Fawer, and an elegant dinner at the home of Ingeborg and Ira Rennert made this exhibition a memorable event.

At the Legion of Honor the exhibit is curated by Dr. Renee Dreyfus who was the curator of several previous IAA loan exhibitions to this splendid venue. The presentation of the Lod Mosaic is part of an ongoing series in San Francisco that began over thirty years ago with the exhibition Crossroads of the Ancient World: Israel's Archaeological Heritage and continued with The Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Ancient Glass from the Holy Land, and Highlights from the Israel Antiquities Authority: The Dead Sea Scrolls and 5,000 Years of Treasures.  The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco have a collaboration agreement with the Israel Antiquities Authority designed to enhance international cultural cooperation. 

It took IAA mosaic conservators Jacques Neguer and Ghaleb Abudiab one and a half days to disassemble the mosaic at the Met, crate it and load it on the truck that hauled the 7 panels to San Francisco.  Assembling the mosaic in the Legion of Honor’s gallery took our conservators four days.  According to a recent NYT article about the travelling of the mosaic, “The Legion of Honor staff members had rehearsed the delivery with an empty box, which slid between the museum’s front columns with millimeters to spare. The museum’s entryway was temporarily reinforced with a steel ramp to support the weight. ‘It’s like a ballet dancer, working out the choreography,’ Lesley Bone, the acting head objects conservator for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, said in a recent phone interview. ‘There was only one dicey moment on the road: the truck almost needed chains on its wheels to cross a snowy patch in the Rockies, but having chains on would have jiggled the freight. We could just imagine every tessera being shaken out of place,’ she said, referring to the individual tiles.”

While at the Met, the Lod Mosaic was displayed in the Greek and Roman Court, surrounded by magnificent treasures from the Met’s collection.  At the Legion of Honor, the mosaic is dramatically displayed in its own gallery, and an adjacent gallery serves as a preface to the exhibition with works from the permanent antiquities collections, including a Roman marble sarcophagus, glass vessels and two mosaic panels.  There are also coins of the era with images of animals and ships borrowed from the San Francisco Ancient Numismatic Society.  A short film and interactive workstation are also located in the gallery for additional context and orientation.


There are several programs and lectures scheduled at the Legion of Honor in conjunction with the exhibition:


Our Helen Diller Family Annual Lecture Series on recent archaeological discoveries in Israel will focus on The Lod Mosaic and will be presented by Miriam Avissar, the excavator of the Mosaic. Artist and scholar Lillian Sizemore will demonstrate her mosaic process, including various techniques highlighting the ancient roots of mosaic making. Mosaic artist Vanessa Somers will demonstrate her craft focusing on cutting tesserae from marble with traditional tools and assembling them into a picture. And Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Christopher Lightfoot, will speak about: The Roman Mosaic from Lod, Israel-Insights and Interpretations. 


The Lod Mosaic exhibition highlights the three large panels found in what was probably a large audience room. Within the central panel—which measures 13 feet square—is a series of smaller squares and triangles depicting various birds, fish, and animals that surround a larger octagonal scene with ferocious wild animals—a lion and lioness, an elephant, a giraffe, a rhinoceros, a tiger, and a bull. Such animals were well known to the                       Romans since they appeared at gladiatorial games, where they were pitted either against each other or against human adversaries. The mosaic may therefore represent the largesse that the owner had conferred by staging games with wild animal hunts. Flanking the central panel to the north and south are two smaller, rectangular end panels. The north panel explores the same theme as the main panel with various creatures; the south panel is devoted to a single marine scene, complete with two Roman merchant ships. A striking feature of all the mosaics is that none of them contains any human figures. The exhibition also relates the history of the discovery and the story of the mosaic's removal, conservation, and eventual journey to the U.S.


The Lod Mosaic is on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Center. 

In New York: Diane Carol Brandt, with additional support from Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman and The David Berg Foundation.

In San Francisco: The Selz Foundation, the Koret Foundation, Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund, Saul A. Fox, and American Express.  Alexander M. & June L. Maisin Supporting Foundation of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund, and the Laszlo N. Tauber Family Foundation.

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