May 25, 2013

Duck, Duck, Duck, Duck, Goose

Santa Maria in Trastevere. That beautiful church in Rome was packed full of remarkable treasures; mostly mosaics and the Cavallini frescoes. When I visited the church some years ago, I recall how majestic the mosaics were - Jesus tending his flock. There was a line of sheep each one with a different pattern to his wool coat. The tesserae of the mosaics were set into the cement in the direct method at slightly different angles. This caused the colors to glisten and change hue depending upon how the light hit them. When I put my lire into the light box to bring the mosaic into a spotlight I was so moved by the sublime beauty that it brought tears to my eyes.

A guard seemed to be duly impressed by my artistic/religious epiphany that he invited me to look at a smaller mosaic around the corner that was hidden behind a glass door. This mosaic was a square Roman emblem depicting ducks and a goose in a water scene. The tesserae were mostly stone but possibly some vitreous glass as well as the blues and greens were so vivid. To my surprise the guard who led me to the spot opened the glass door and told me to put my hands on it to feel the tesserae. I’m sure this was not standard operating procedures for tourists but I did so, grateful that I could touch what a Roman artist from antiquity had touched. I remained for a while at the site making a sketch of this mosaic.

A few days ago I revisited my sketch, and, revising history again, decided to make the sketch into a detailed drawing (I have a postcard of the original mosaic as a guide should I wish to consult it). Even though the mosaic was square, once again I decided to use the whole long page and create details at the top and bottom. I used small decorative lines and details so that the mosaic became a tapestry of patterns. Or perhaps it is more like a pottery design. It is an amalgam of sorts: past, present, decoration and documentation.

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