The Nile Mosaic of Palestrina


The Nile Mosaic of palestrina

Currently in Museo Nazionale Prenestino in Palazzo Barberini, Palestrina, Italy.

Dated to around 100 BC this is what we term Hellenistic mosaic, made using very small tesserae. Set as part of a grotto it measures 5.85 m by 4.31m It was discovered in 1507 and was moved so there have been various restoration works. This always causes a problem when you look at a mosaic with a view to making a copy of all or sections of it is you can never be sure which bits are original and which are copies.

It's interesting in how it depicts so many different scenes of life around the Nile at that time.
All photos copyright and by permission of Zane Green 2013

the nile mosaic

The Palestrina Mosaic or Nile mosaic of Palestrina is a late Hellenistic floor mosaic depicting the Nile in its passage from the Blue Nile to the Mediterranean. The mosaic was part of a Classical sanctuary-grotto in Palestrina, a town east of Ancient Rome, in central Italy. It has a width of 5.85 metres and a height of 4.31 metres and provides a glimpse into the Roman fascination with ancient Egyptian exoticism in the 1st century BC, both as an early manifestation of the role of Egypt in the Roman imagination and an example of the genre of "Nilotic landscape", with a long iconographic history in Egypt and the Aegean. (Wikipedia)

How much is original?

This mosaic has been the subject of a number of restoration works and so we can not be sure of exactly how it may differ in parts from its original setting. The style though is typical of what can be termed 'Hellenistic' mosaic work, very fine and detailled. 

The mosaic may have been indicated in a well-known passage in Pliny's Natural History concerning mosaic floors in Italy:

'Mosaics came into use as early as Sulla's régime. At all events there exists even today one made of very small tesseraewhich he installed in the temple of Fortune at Palestrina'.