The Mosaics of Rhodes, Greece (or How Mosaics Should be Seen)
The conversation went a bit like this:
D: There are some really good off-season deals on flights to the islands. Shall we go?
D: Santorini or Rhodes?
Me: (Inner musing: Santorini = the whole Greek thing. White washed houses set on cliffs over looking azure seas. Rhodes = mosaics) Rhodes!
And so off we went one weekend to see the mosaics of Rhodes, Greece. As it happens, Rhodes is a perfect place to really see mosaics, not just the tarted up ancient variety which now hang on museum walls. Pebble mosaics, characteristic of many of the Greek islands, are everywhere in the medieval town of Rhodes covering pavements, shop entrance ways, hotel foyers and cafe floors. What a delight! Instead of cranning your neck to see mosaics plucked from their original settings and displayed like works of art in hushed settings or having to lean precariously over a barrier to get a closer view of them at archeological sites, here they are all over the place. Neither revered or disregarded; they are just there. Continue reading →
It’s not unusual for me to look at an ancient mosaic in situ or pore over the details of one hanging in a museum and seriously wonder if there’s any point in what I’m doing. Modern mosaics inspired by ancient designs. That’s me but, I mean, really? Why bother? Why go to the effort of doing my own designs when I could just make Roman mosaic copies? After all, the Romans have pretty much covered it: gorgeous colours, exquisite patterns, arresting designs, grandeur, domesticity, humour, tenderness, you name it, the Romans have done it mosaic-wise. Done it on a massive scale. Done it so well that thousands of years later we still admire their workmanship. It’s enough to make you feel like a paltry foot soldier, dusty and dishevelled, scampering to keep up in the wake of the mighty Roman armies.
And yet. There’s always an ‘and yet’. And yet when I surf the internet or click absent mindedly through social media, time and time again I am stopped short by modern examples of Roman mosaic copies. They keep cropping up: students’ copies of the famous fish skeleton from the Vatican’s Upswept Floor; multiple versions of Pompeii’s Cave Canem; endless backward looking doves perched on basins; gods and goddesses, peacocks, still lives, hunting scenes. It doesn’t matter that we are surrounded by dazzlingly fast high tech machines and can eat a pineapple for lunch which has been flown overnight from the other side of the world, Roman mosaics still have a firm hold on our collective imagination. Continue reading →
Sometimes I feel blessed. Not just blessed, but blessed-blessed. In addition to the blessed of daily life which is more than blessed enough, I have the extra blessing of being able to walk out of the house, hop in the car and go see ancient mosaics almost on my door step including the early Christian mosaics of Dephi. Now, really, how blessed is that?
Here in Athens there are Byzantine churches with gloomy interiors and glittering mosaics within easy access, Corinth is a mere hour a way, it’s hard to enter a museum without encountering mosaics and even long boring journeys can yield unexpected delights of the mosaic variety. I don’t like to gloat but sometimes it’s hard not to feel that when the Gods were distributing their gifts they dropped an extra mosaic-shaped sackful just for me.
That’s exactly how I felt the day I went to see the mosaics of Delphi with my friend Angie. She was keen to revisit the ruins and I wanted to see the extensive mosaic floor which originally came from a late 5th, early 6th century church in the village of Delphi nearby but is now to be found outside the site’s archeological museum. I had seen it before on a family trip when small children, an elderly mother in law and a fierce sun had deterred us from lingering and this time I was intent on savouring it.
Sometimes when I look at ancient mosaics I fear that I might explode. The beauty of them, the movement, the expressions, the scenes, the patterns, the workmanship, the ancientness, everything about them moves me but I think it might be the use of glass in ancient mosaics which squeezes my heart the hardest; those defiant flashes of colour asserting their presence, like a hand raised in farewell from the deck of a steamer as the ship pulls away.
I know what I would have done if I had discovered the ancient mosaic fragments in the sea near Atalanti on the east coast of mainland Greece. I would have wrapped up my secret in tissue paper and put it in a shoe box under the bed. I would have hoarded the knowledge and pleasure of those fragments all to myself, worried for their safety, conscious of their fragility, but I didn’t discover them so they are not in my shoe box but here, on the internet, for all to see.
I came across the fragments through a Facebook post by Olga Goulandris , a mixed media mosaic artist living and working in Greece. In a comment thread she wrote that the mosaics fragments in the sea could be found off the main national road north of Athens heading towards Lamia. As it happens, I pass along that road quite often. With a car loaded with boys, weekend supplies and a scruffy dog, I routinely zoom past the turning en route to our little house in the mountains of Pelion. After seeing Olga’s post I often calculated whether I could test the patience of my fractious teenagers and go in search of the mosaics, but having hauled them around many of the major mosaic sites of Europe I knew that boys and mosaics are not necessarily a good mix and deferred. Continue reading →
Sometimes I wish I wasn’t here. Here, in Greece, I mean. I miss my family and old friends back home. I miss casual conversations and little quips with strangers in queues. I get tired of living in rented houses with their pocket hankerchief kitchens and fake gold bathroom fittings. I long for a job with a desk and a salary and colleagues. I miss book shops, newspapers, cows in fields, daffodils, and being able to vote. I fantasise about online supermarket shopping and staying firmly wrapped up all year around instead of having to expose my pallid body on the beach in ungainly swimming costumes.
At other times (or even at the same time) I feel quite the opposite. I take delight in all manner of things here. My new friends, my new interests, walking the dog in the dawn light in the park, the flower soaked hillsides of spring, the fruit and vegetable street markets, unravelling the knotted frustrations of the language and of course sliding into the warm blue loveliness of the summer sea. Continue reading →
The day is done. The dishwasher is rumbling away, the boys are arrayed on the sofa in front of the TV, the dog is stretched out in the part of the sitting room that he has claimed as his own and I slink off, tea in hand, to my computer. It’s my way of unwinding. A quick check for any interesting mosaic pins on Pinterest, a glance at mosaic matters on Twitter (oh, how I love it’s brevity), followed by a longer, slower look at what fellow mosaicists are up to on Facebook, clicking through to interesting links they’ve posted which often leads on to another link and then another… And as the idle minutes pass, day after day, I start to notice certain similarities between ancient mosaics from all over the Roman world.
I have a new theory that the particular pleasure a museum can bring is not so much in the exhibits themselves but rather in the person one is with (or ones that one is without). True, there are museums so wonderful (the Metropolitan, the British Museum, the Cairo Museum), that one can go with a hoard of elephants and one couldn’t fail to be moved, but ideally museums need to be savoured. I have been to see the mosaics of Corinth, which are scarcely an hour from our home in Athens, at least twice before but savouring was never an option. With three boys in tow, my attention was taken up in the room full of ancient votive phalluses and in working out how far we were from the nearest ice cream kiosk.
But on this trip to see the Roman mosaics of Corinth things were different. In the company of a good friend, with the whole day ahead of us, savouring was not only possible but almost compulsory. The museum at the ancient site is small, the exhibits are few, the ruins were empty, we were alone and we could do entirely as we pleased with no one tugging at our sleeves or suddenly announcing an urgent need to use the toilet. So, since we had the opportunity to savour, savour we did. Continue reading →
(formerly Athens, Greece)
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Helen Miles Mosaics
I learnt how to make mosaics with Greek masters of the craft in Thessaloniki and Athens who taught using traditional methods with a focus on Byzantine iconography. Later, I become fixated with Roman designs and now my aim is to preserve the simplicity and directness of early mosaics while creating pieces which suit our modern lives.