Roman mosaics

Mosaic headstones: ancient and modern

My aunt and grandfather’s grave, Mount Vernon, Edinburgh. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

Mosaic headstones: my aunt’s grave.

When my aunt knew she was dying, she asked me to make a mosaic for her grave. It was four years ago, but even now I find myself enormously touched by her request. She wanted to be buried with her father, my grandfather, who died of a brain tumour in 1937 and was interred in a large, urban graveyard on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Their names and dates are written in black lettering on a simple granite tombstone which consists of three low steps at the base of a plain cross.

Lachrimae Rerum mosaic. Photo taken after washing away the grout (which is why it’s wet) and before the final seal

 Mosaic headstones: a simple plaque

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Happy Mosaic Easter!

If you happen to be an Easter sort then I want to wish you a very Happy Mosaic Easter and if, like me, you are in the Orthodox world, then my Happy Easter extends to next Sunday when we celebrate Easter a week later.

We always spend Easter on Pelion, a mountain penninsula in central Greece, where mosaics wont be far from my mind and where I will be enjoying the spring flowers:

Mosaic flower detail.
Mosaic flower detail. Palazzo Massimo Museum, Rome, Italy. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics
White flower, Pelion, Greece.
White flower, Pelion, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

Playing with the dog: Continue reading

Snap! Comparing ancient mosaics.

Mosaic floor in situ, Pompeii bath house.
Mosaic octopus, Pompeii bath house. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics
Octopos, Isthmia
Mosaic octopus. Isthmia, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

Finding similarities between ancient mosaics

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.

Leaf border design. Byzantine Museum, Thessaloniki. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics
Leaf border design. Nikopolis, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics
Leaf border design. Stobi, Macedonia. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

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Goodbye to Gaziantep: a visit to the Zeugma Mosaic Museum, Turkey.

Gaziantep, a city in southern Turkey some forty miles from the Syrian border, has become a bustling hub at the centre of the Middle East’s latest conflict. It’s a destination for spies and refugees, insurgent fighters and rebel leaders, foreign-aid workers and covert jihadists ... The Vortex, A Turkish city on the frontier of Syria’s war. By Robin Wright, The New Yorker. December 8, 2014.

Detail from the Oceanus and Tethys mosaic. Image: Helen Miles Mosaics

It can’t be easy having me as a mother. Our summers, always complicated because of living in Greece but having family in the UK, are additionally complicated because I insist on making a detour if we ever find ourselves within range of an ancient mosaic. And when I say ‘within range’ I use the term somewhat loosely. It is not such a big deal to add Aquileia into the agenda if we are already stopping in Ravenna on one of our road trips back home and of course anyone wanting to see Pompeii would have an equal interest in the (mosaic rich) National Archeological Museum in Naples, but driving close to 1,800 kilometres (one way) across Turkey from Thessaloniki in northern Greece to Gaziantep to see the Zeugma Mosaic Museum was perhaps pushing things a bit far. Continue reading

How long does it take to make a mosaic?

Five black and white birds. 96cm by 63cm. Direct method on mesh.

I know it’s a niggly silly question, like asking how long is a piece of string or the price of love. But actually it’s a question that’s often asked and, if I’m honest, I’ve always rather wondered myself. How long does it take to make a mosaic? I’m up there, in my little studio at the top of the house, in a happy trace, making my latest mosaic and utterly oblivious to the hours passing. Sometimes I look up and realise two hours, three, have just vanished and my lovely precious time is gone and I must rush downstairs, fling on something presentable, and dash off to school to collect the boys. And so the days go by. Sometimes the hours are more, sometimes less. Sometimes I can ignore the unwelcome intrusions of the outside world, at other times the world comes and seizes me by the scruff of the neck and drags me reluctantly back to attend to it’s affairs. Continue reading

Seeing eye to eye: ancient mosaic faces (and one of my own)

Roman mosaic, Palazzo Massimo, Rome. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics
Roman mosaic, Palazzo Massimo, Rome. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

You know what it’s like. I know you know. That moment when you open the oven and find your lovingly prepared cake has failed to rise, peer into the washing machine to discover the white wash has turned an alarming shade of pink, or herd a bunch of fractious children up a hill in the sizzling heat with the promise of an ice cream at the end, only to find you’ve left your wallet in the car. Well, I am sure you also know that mosaic making has it’s own such moments. Except they are not really moments. They are long wasted hours when you look back and think: darn, drat and bother it (to put it politely). So it was when I had a go at making a mosaic face.

Taking inspiration from ancient mosaic faces

I know I’ve told you that my thang is ancient mosaics but, hey, lets say it all over again. I cant get enough of them in all shapes and forms from vast basilica floors to little fragments behind museum glass, but I have a particular fascination for ancient mosaic faces. One reason I like  them is that sometimes they are a bit wonky which is charming and gratifying at the same time. But for all the wonky faces, like the one above, there are others which are stunning in their precision and authenticity. This melancholy woman from Pompeii is a case in point. Continue reading

Up close and personal: the Roman mosaics of Corinth, Greece.

Flower detail. Corinth, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics
Flower detail. Corinth, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

Savouring the mosaics of Corinth

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.

Roman inscription, Corinth, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics
Roman inscription, Corinth, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics.

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

Why did YOU start making mosaics?

My mosaic studio. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics
My mosaic studio. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

Often, as I sit cutting and nipping and shaping and placing in my little studio at the top of the house, I ponder the attraction of mosaics. It does, as I’ve said before, provoke the ‘yer wha?’ response when you mention it to others. It’s solitary, it’s a bit odd, it’s horribly slow and frankly it’s rather eccentric so why do we do it? And how did we get from A (knowing nothing about mosaics) to B (being so absorbed in them that we are writing/reading blogs about them)?

Making mosaics. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics
Making mosaics. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

Inspired by Julie Sperling’s brilliant piece on the experience of taking a mosaic course, I decided it would be interesting to collect your thoughts and stories about the moment when you realised that mosaics were for you. Whether you are a professional, full time mosaic maker or someone who makes mosaics in the odd spare moments that jobs and children and life allow you, then the question is the same: why did you start making mosaics? 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