The Lod Mosaic Masterpiece at Penn Museum

February 12, 2013

The Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority are delighted to tell you that on Sunday, February 10, "Unearthing a Masterpiece: A Roman Mosaic from Lod, Israel" opened at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.  This is the fifth and final stop in a multi-city U.S. exhibition of our spectacular Roman period masterpiece, the largest and one of the most beautiful ancient works of art from Israel.  The Lod Mosaic is on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Center. The Lod Mosaic will be on display at the UPENN Museum until May 12, 2013. After its presentation at UPENN, the Lod Mosaic will travel to Europe and will open at the Louvre Museum in Paris on May 22, 2013.

A lively ribbon cutting ceremony brought together hundreds of museum friends and guests, including Museum Director Dr. Julian Siggers; Yaron Sideman, Consul General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region; Renato Miracco, Cultural Attaché, Italian Embassy; and Luigi Scotto, Consul General of Italy in Philadelphia.  The ceremony was followed by a wonderful lecture, "Deciphering the Lod Mosaic," given by Dr. C. Brian Rose, Curator-in-Charge, Mediterranean Section.  In his lecture, Dr. Rose explored why decorative motifs of this kind were held in such high esteem during the Roman Empire. That exploration lead us into the world of gladiatorial games, the wild animal export industry, and mythological charades in ancient Rome.

Viewing the Mosaic at the UPENN Museum

Beautifully installed in the Pepper Gallery, the Lod Mosaic is surrounded by the wonderful Canaan and Israel Gallery, the Iraq Gallery and the Japan and China Gallery.  Also on display are the synopia (painted guidelines under the mosaic floor), footprints of mosaic artists that were lifted during the excavation of the mosaic, and a decorated Roman period helmet worn by gladiators from the Museum's collections.

The Israel Antiquities Authority is thrilled to work with the UPENN Museum on showcasing the archaeological treasures of the Land of Israel with visitors to this wonderful museum.  The Penn Museum holds nearly 25,000 artifacts from excavations in the Levant, a geographical area that encompasses modern Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon, as well as adjacent parts of Syria. These holdings represent the largest collection of artifacts from the region in the United States and the Western Hemisphere.

Penn Museum's active interest in the Levant, specifically Israel, began in the 1920's, when Clarence Fisher, Alan Rowe and G. M. FitzGerald directed excavations, funded by John D. Rockefeller, at Tell el-Husn, ancient Beisan or Beth Shean, on whose walls the Philistines impaled the bodies of Saul and his sons following their defeat on Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31: 1-10). The Beth Shean excavations lasted from 1921 to 1933 and were followed in the mid-1950's by excavations at el-Jib/Gibeon, Tell es Sa'idiyeh, probably ancient Zarenthan, where the Israelites crossed the Jordan (Joshua 3: 16).

The Lod Mosaic Exhibition

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.These exhibitions are an extraordinary opportunity to share with the American public the most spectacular objects discovered in Israel, and educate the public about the importance and urgency of the archaeological work conducted by the IAA.

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