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Work Mosaic: Triumph of Neptune and Amphitrite

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Christian and Byzantine Art

Fragment de mosaïque de sol : triomphe de Neptune et d'Amphitrite

© 1982 RMN / Christian Jean / jean Schormans

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Christian and Byzantine Art

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

During late antiquity, the mosaic floors of villas began to resemble veritable carpets that rivaled each other in the magnificence of their motifs and colors. This huge fourth-century mosaic, originally completed with a vast geometric frame, adorned the reception room of a wealthy Constantine home. It represents the triumph of the sea god Neptune and his wife Amphitrite, who are shown standing in a chariot drawn by sea horses and surrounded by cupids.

The paved floor of a North African villa

This huge mosaic was unearthed during one of the first archaeological missions in Algeria, which was conducted by Major Delamare in the 1840s. It adorned the floor of a reception room in a wealthy villa in Constantine (ancient Cirta). A huge geometric carpet, which consisted of medallions inside octagons formed by laurel wreaths, originally framed the figured scene. The paved floor, which then measured 8.36 m by 7.14 m, resembled a veritable carpet whose elegance stemmed from its diversity of motifs and wealth of colors. Practically the entire mosaic floor is in the Louvre: the figured panel is on display in the Mosaic Gallery, and sixty fragments of the geometric frame are in the reserve collection.

The triumph of Neptune and Amphitrite

Although seascapes had an important place in the repertory of North African mosaicists during the Roman period, the theme represented on this particular panel was relatively rare in mosaic art. The subject is the triumph of the sea god Neptune and his wife Amphitrite, and the composition is particularly original. It was no doubt inspired by certain Dionysian images and coronation scenes, familiar from sarcophagi and mosaics from the third and fourth centuries AD. Both deities are represented standing on a chariot drawn by four sea horses. Two cupids are holding a canopy over their heads, thus enhancing the majesty of the divine couple; other putti, in front of them, are fishing in the teeming sea. Two other cupids are swimming with dolphins in front of the boats.

A work from the early fourth century AD

This mosaic was designed in a highly classicizing style. Several indications suggest that it dates to circa AD 315-25: the hairstyle of the goddess, the quality of the drawing, the symmetrical composition, and the refined palette with its sparkling colors that play on the shades obtained by the opus tessellatum technique. In accordance with other late examples, a certain horror of the void is expressed by the profusion of waves on the sea, and the abundance of fish and shells.

Bibliography

M. Potvin, L'image fragmentée : la mosaïque depuis l'Antiquité romaine, Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1994, p. 28-29, n 8.
Fr. Baratte, Catalogue des mosaïques romaines et paléochrétiennes du musée du Louvre, Paris, 1978, p. 28-40, n 6, fig. 17-24.

Technical description

  • Fragment de mosaïque de sol : triomphe de Neptune et d'Amphitrite

    Ier quart du IVe siècle après J.-C.

    Constantine, Algérie

  • Marbre, calcaire et pâte de verre

    l. : 8,36 m. ; L. : 7,14 m.

  • Mission du capitaine DelamareDon, 1845 , 1845

    N° d'entrée LP 2884 (n° usuel Ma 1880)

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

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Additional information about the work

Sixty fragments (now in the reserve collection) originally completed the mosaic paving.