Incredible places to see mosaics

  • 14 July 2014

To celebrate the exhibition of the rare Lod mosaic at Waddesdon Manor, we look at some of the amazing Roman tile designs on display across the UK.

The Lod floor mosaic, late third C.E., Israel Antiquities Authority Nicky Davidov

The Lod floor mosaic, late third C.E., Israel Antiquities Authority

British Museum, London

Free to all

The British Museum is a trove of rare and beautiful mosaics, including examples from across England, Italy and North Africa. Perhaps the most famous is one discovered in Hinton St Mary, Dorset, in 1963, depicting a clean-shaven man – possibly the earliest known image of Christ. The picture is accompanied by the Greek letters chi and rho – the first two letters of Christ's name – and when placed together as a monogram they form the symbol for Christianity at this time. If it is Christ, then this is the only such portrait on a mosaic floor from anywhere in the Roman Empire.

Corinium Museum, Cirencester

Free entry with National Art Pass

In the fourth century AD two groups of local mosaicists produced designs for the many wealthy residences in Cirencester, and the museum showcases many fine examples of their work. Among them are four mosaic floors, one of which features musician and poet Orpheus surrounded by wild animals, charmed by his songs. This was a popular legend among locals at the time.

Verulanium Museum, St Albans

Free entry with National Art Pass

St Albans became a thriving centre of Roman life during the second century AD, triggering a property boom in the area and increasing the demand for interior mosaics – a symbol of status and wealth. Verulamium holds one of the finest collections of Romano British designs, including a rare semi-circular shell dated to c. AD 150, and other examples featuring dahlia flowers, dolphins, lions and river God, Oceanus. Just outside the museum in Verulamium Park, a hypocaust containing its original mosaic floor allows visitors to see the pieces in-situ.

Waddesdon Manor, Aylesbury

Free entry with National Art Pass

In 1996, local roadworks being undertaken in Lod – a city just outside Tel Aviv – uncovered an incredible series of Roman mosaic floors. Following their excavation in 2009 by the Israel Antiquities Authority, the largest and most elaborate of the set has toured to museums across the world, including the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Louvre in Paris. The mosaic – which is on display at Waddesdon until 2 November 2014 – is believed to have belonged to a large and well-appointed Roman house, and is dated to about AD 300. It depicts various birds, fish, and wild animals and it bears some of the earliest known images of a rhinoceros and a giraffe. In Roman times, these creatures would have appeared at gladiatorial games, where they were pitted either against each other in battle.

Yorkshire Museum, York

Free entry with National Pass

Yorkshire Museum's collection of nearly 1m archaeological finds includes a wealth of Roman matter; notably a four-metre square mosaic floor and a wall fresco, which were both found in the city. Visitors are able to 'become Roman' by slipping on a pair of sandals and walking across the Eboracum mosaic, or creating their own design using replica tiles.

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