Mosaic photo galleries

A collection of ancient mosaic Medusa heads.


medusa head
Medusa head, Dion, Greece. Photo: @helenmilesmosaics
Mosaic Medusa heads: warding off evil.

Hello, hello, I’m back! Is anyone there? Coo-eeeeeeee (echos reverberating down the corridors of mosaic lovers). Let me just walk in, sit down for a moment and take a deep breath in and another long one out. There, that’s better.

mosaic medusa head
Medusa head, Sparta, 3rd century, Greece. Photo: @helenmilesmosaics

Shall I regale you with tales of the move? Do you really want to hear about boxes piled up to the ceiling and mountains of packaging, the multiple runs to the municipal recycling centre and charity shops, the scraps of love, the hordes of letters, the 1970s diaries, the 80s boob tubes, and the sense of quiet and not so quiet panic at the number of unidentified socks that are still heaped up in a corner? I doubt it. So instead it seems appropriate to talk about mosaic Medusa heads – partly because I have felt not unlike one myself over recent weeks and partly because in all the relocating confusion I have at least been spared the obligation of finding a Gorgon to put on my doormat.

medusa head
Archeological Musem of Palencia, Spain

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A gallery of pomegranate mosaics

Pomegranate tree mosaic. Photo and mosaic: Frederic Lecut, Mosaic Blues.

I know why Hades chose a pomegranate to tempt Persephone. You’re stuck down there in the underworld, in those vaulted, sunless spaces and you’ve got to find something that she won’t be able to resist, something that conjures up all the light and energy that she’s pining for. It’s the perfect fruit. The blushing skin, those bright, too-red seeds, so small, so beguilingly small that surely it wouldn’t matter to just have one, or two. No one would notice. Why would they care?

Pomegranate. Hinton St. Mary.
Christ and pomegranates, Hinton St. Mary, Dorset.

Just as it’s not surprising that Hades chose a pomegranate to trick his victim, nor is it unexpected that religions and cultures from China and India to the Middle East, Iran and Turkey have commandeered the pomegranate as a receptacle for all sorts of symbolic meanings. The pomegranate is a casting agent’s dream – it’s rich, luxurious, sexual, and full and has been widely appropriated to signify propserity, marriage and fertility. Continue reading

Weird and wonderful: my top ten strange ancient mosaics

odd mosaics. no accreditation.

The Romans: sticklers for conformity

When it comes to home decor, the Romans were sticklers for conformity. If you amassed a fortune, there were two things you had to do: one, get yourself a sprawling villa in a prime location. Two, call in the mosaic team. But it was de rigueur to keep to the pattern book. From one end of the vast empire to the other, from the drizzling hills of Roman Britain to the sizzling plains of Antioch, the designs and themes of ancient mosaics show striking similarities. The images that appear most often are hunting scenes, depictions of wild animals, of mythological characters, of masked actors and of gladiatorial battles. Continue reading

Great Palace Mosaic Museum, Istanbul

NB: The Great Palace Mosaic Museum will be closed for two years from 2016 for resoration and refurbishment.

Great Palace Mosaic Museum: the facts.

For once, I will stick to the facts. Confronted with mosaics of such beauty and intricacy, covering so great an area, made so long ago and depicting such an extraordinary range of subjects, I don’t even know where to begin. So I wont try. Look at the photos, break open your piggy bank, cajole your bank manager, have another look behind the back of the sofa, and book your flight now. The Great Palace Mosaic Museum of Istanbul is simply not to be missed.

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Little mosaic birds from ancient sites

Irresistible mosaic birds

I cant resist little mosaic birds from ancient sites. They keep popping up all over the place, looking a bit goofy, prone to gangliness,  unsure of themselves, and often with a neglected, somewhat forlorn air which only adds to their charms.

Andulusia, Spain.
Black and white bird from Andalusia, Spain.

Take this fellow below. You walk into the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna expecting to spend the next few hours with a crink in your neck marvelling over the Byzantine mosaic wonders overhead and the first thing you see on the threshold is this bird. Just sitting there minding it’s own business, knowing that no one is going to pay it any attention, but cheerful none the less. One’s heart melts.

Basilica di S. Vitale, Ravenna, Italy.
Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy.

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Ancient mosaics and big cats

As you might have gathered by now, I have a bit of a mosaic fetish going on. You could even call it a problem. When I am not making mosaics, or fiddling about with designs, I have to admit I can often be found rummaging through photographs on Flickr and Pinterest in a furtive compulsion to look at them.


Many of the more unusual ancient Roman mosaic images come from the Ancient Rome Facebook page and there are also wonderful images posted in the Flickr Antiques Mosaiques group for which I am very grateful, not to mention the ones which turn up on Pinterest which I jealously hoard on my Ancient Mosaics board.

There are abundant examples of wild animals in some of the oldest mosaics but big cats turn up more than most. Their obvious qualities of ferocity and beauty made them ideal candidates for the mosaic medium but their representation is varied, rangeing from the macabre:

martyr2To the tender:

Cleveland Museum of Art, Tiger and cubs.

Among the most famous and extraordinary mosaics featuring big cats are the ones of Pella, Greece (top). Made of finely calibrated pebbles, these mosaics date back almost 2,500 years and show Alexander the Great strutting his manly stuff out in the forests of Macedonia, hunting lions without a stitch on or a care in the world before vaulting on the back of an obliging leopard:


Ah, but they are just the beginning. Here is a random selection of ancient mosaics and big cats:

My top ten favourite mosaics

My favourite mosaics

Feeling a bit gloomy and introspective after some major dental work and so I cheered myself up by spending an evening collecting my favourite mosaics in one place. These are in no particular order.

1. The mosaic floor of the Basilica of Aquileia, Italy, 4th century, AD.

This strange little detail of a tortoise meeting a cockerel gives you an idea of the odd ball moments in this enormous Roman mosaic which covers the entire floor of the church. We went there in the summer and I have posted an album of photographs for anyone who is interested:

Aquileia mosaic, tortoise and cockerel.

2. The Lod Mosaic, near Tel Aviv, Israel. 3rd century, AD. An immensely well preserved Roman mosaic of vast extent and beauty. The top picture is still only a fraction of the whole and the others are details.

Lod mosaic, overview

Lod mosaic, fishLod mosaic, birds

3. The map of Madaba, Church of St. George, Jordan. 6th century, AD.

Madaba map, Jordan.

4. The Unswept Floor, Vatican Museum, Rome. 2nd century, AD. I was determined to see this mosaic on a recent trip to Rome, but failed miserably. There were mosaics all over the Vatican but this one eluded me. Even the woman at the information booth couldn’t help. Is it really there?

Unswept floor

5. The Shepherdess Walk Mosaic Project, Hackney, London. Led by Tessa Hunkin and opened earlier this year. This is a mere drop in the ocean of an enormous community project mosaic recently completed in London.

Tessa Hunkin, Hackney mosaic

6. New York City subway mosaics, of which this is one example at Delancey Street. The subway mosaics also include some wonderful mosaic signs which is a use of mosaic that I am particularly partial to.

Mosaic fish, Delancey Street

7. The Low Ham Mosaic, Somerset, UK. This is one of five panels. 4th century AD. Dido embracing Aeneas. It’s his skirt, her bottom and the trees that do it for me.

Low Ham Roman Mosaic

8. Horse and Pomegranate. 4th century, AD. Villa Fortunatus, Zaragoza Museum, Spain. A horse and a pomegranate in one mosaic. What more can one ask for?  More on pomegranates in mosaics here: and pomegranate.

9. Emma Biggs. Green bowls, detail. As far as I’m concerned, everything Emma Biggs does is perfect, but this is even more perfect than normal.

Emma Biggs, Green Bowls, Detail

10. Marc Chagall, Four Seasons Mosaic, bird detail, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, Illinois. I love the way the adamento (filling in bits) are laid in this 21-metre long mosaic completed in 1974.

Chagall mosaic, Chicago

10 and a half.  Leopard, Beit el Din, Lebanon.

Beit Ed Dine, Panather, Lebanon.