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.
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.
These birds, so inconspicuous and often incidental to larger, more ornate designs, seem to me to be the mosaic equivalent of the rough, neglected verges you find when you stray away from the formal grounds of country houses and take a turn down a wooded path. Neither mown nor cared for, but speckled with ordinary wild flowers, whose ordinariness seems more extraordinarily beautiful next to their fancier, cultured counterparts.
When I look at these little birds I get the feeling that they were made with as much joy as they give. They weren’t made to show off or attract attention. No tyrannous ruler was going to throw a wobbly if the mosaic team got a piece of stone out of place on these creatures, they were just simple decoration intended to be trodden upon, rarely noticed and even more rarely appreciated. Here’s another from the San Vitale floor:
Made by minions?
I suspect that it was the mosaic minions who made them. Maybe the apprentices; young, eager workers who created them freehand, playing with colour and movement. In the mosaic above the circle around the bird has three different patterns – one with a central band of brown (lower left), one with three strands of colour (upper left) and one with just the extra thick black band (right) . Experimentation? Sloppiness? Or just working as the mood took them on a lowly floor while the great masters got on with their magic on the ceilings above.
And a final one by me: