The California Palace of the Legion of Honor is one of only four museums in the United States to display a glorious Roman mosaic before its final and permanent installation in Lod, Israel.
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“The Marvelous Menagerie” exhibit, April 23-July 24, showcases this treasure that dates to about AD 300.
First unearthed in 1996 in a rescue excavation in Lod, ancient Diospolis, Israel, a large and extraordinarily detailed floor mosaic was recently lifted from its site and conserved. Found in a large villa believed to belong to a wealthy Roman, the exquisitely preserved floor is in the United States for a limited time before it returns to Israel to become the focus of the Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Center.
“Other Roman mosaics have been found in Israel, but this one is exceptional in its lively imagery and its excellent state of preservation. We are thrilled to be able to display such an amazing work of art in our museum and think about what a great city Lod must have been in Roman times. Each excavated work in the Holy Land reveals so much about the history and people who lived in this remarkable land,” Exhibition Curator Renée Dreyfus said.
Located in Gallery 1 at the Legion of Honor, the mosaic was designed as two rectangular end panels flanking a large square medallion. The medallion and one of the end panels contain delightful depictions of a menagerie of common animals and exotic beasts. The other rectangular panel portrays a fabulous marine scene filled with a profusion of fish, dolphins, shells and two Roman merchant ships. The absence of human figures, typical in the work of the time, makes this mosaic particularly unusual. Measuring approximately 300 square feet, the splendid work of art commands almost the entire footprint in Gallery 1, but visitors will be able to walk on three sides for ample viewing.
Gallery 2 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 Gallery 2 for additional context and orientation.
There are several programs and lectures scheduled at the Legion of Honor in conjunction with “Marvelous Menagerie.”
On May 14 and June 12, and July 9, artist and scholar Lillian Sizemore gives an artist demonstration in Gallery 12 at noon, followed by a lecture in the Florence Gould Theater at 2:30 pm. Sizemore will demonstrate her mosaic process, including various techniques highlighting the ancient roots of mosaic making. Sizemore’s lecture titled Exploring the Lod Mosaic: Past and Present reveals the methods and designs used to create the Lod mosaic. She introduces the ancient methods used to transfer the underlying design and how the pavements were built. Her research shows how the Lod mosaic reveals more than what meets the eye, and how ancient patterning still informs our thinking today.
The Helen Diller Family Annual Lecture Series focusing on recent archaeological discoveries in Israel and hosted by the Ancient Art Council continues with “The Lod Mosaic and Its Menagerie: Roman Influence in Local Mosaic Art,” scheduled for April 27 at 7 p.m. in the Florence Gould Theater. Miriam Avissar, a senior archaeologist with the IAA and the original excavator of the Lod Mosaic, is the guest speaker.
Mosaic artist Vanessa Somers will be at the Legion of Honor on May 22 to lecture and demonstrate her craft. Her illustrated lecture on the art of creating a mosaic titled “Mosaics, a Lost Art — Rediscovered!” begins at 1 p.m. in the Florence Gould Theater.
Somers follows her lecture at 2:30 p.m. with a demonstration in Gallery 12 focusing on cutting tesserae from marble with traditional tools and assembling them into a picture.
Finally, on June 25, Metropolitan Museum of Art curator of Greek and Roman art, Christopher Lightfoot, will give The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Ancient Art Lecture. The lecture, titled “The Roman Mosaic from Lod, Israel—Insights and Interpretations,” is in the Florence Gould Theater at 2 p.m.
Ancient art at the Legion of Honor
The Fine Arts Museums’ collection of ancient art includes antiquities from the ancient Mediterranean world and the Near East, including Greece, Rome, Egypt, Assyria, Persia and other Near Eastern sites dating back to 2500 BC. Objects on display in the Legion of Honor include pottery, sculpture, glass, and metalwork.
Fine examples from the ancient art collection are a Persian relief from Persepolis, the Winged Genius, and a group of delicately carved ivories from Nimrud (in present-day northern Iraq). These pieces offer a unique opportunity to see great treasures from the ancient Near East.
The Lod mosaic is on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Center. The exhibition’s lead patron is The Selz Foundation.
The presentation of the Lod mosaic is part of an ongoing series that began over 30 years ago with the exhibition “Crossroads of the Ancient World: Israel’s Archaeological Heritage” (1982) and continued with “The Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls” (1994), “Ancient Glass from the Holy Land” (1997), and “Highlights from the Israel Antiquities Authority: The Dead Sea Scrolls” and “5,000 Years of Treasures” (2008).
Patrons are the Koret Foundation, Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund, and American Express. Sponsors are Alexander M. and June L. Maisin Supporting Foundation of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund, and The Laszlo N. Tauber Family Foundation.
Education programs held in conjunction with the exhibition are made possible by an anonymous gift.
The California Palace of the Legion of Honor is located at 100 34th St., San Francisco. The exhibition runs to July 24.
For exhibition ticket prices and to reserve tickets visit tickets.famsf.org or call the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco at 415-750-3600.