Mosaic with aquatic scene


This black and white mosaic fragment was found in 1936 in a Roman sepulcher during the time when the Parish of Saints Francis and Catherine was excavated. The Church was situated where Via Trastevere and the Gianicolo road intersect in Rome. Along with two other polychrome mosaic fragments (one with two peacocks, inv. 10430; another with geometric designs, inv. 10441), this piece was part of the pavement of various columbaria, the structure of vaults with recesses for funerary urns, which were found during the excavations.


It was then removed by mosaic artist Giuseppe Mattia and donated along with the others in March of 1938 to the Vatican Museums of the Pontifical Society for the Preservation of the Faith (Arch. St. b. 65,1938). An initial restoration in 1947 served to adjoin the two contiguous panels by mounting them in cement on a metal mesh. Meanwhile, the second intervention effectively started in 1988, during_MG_8902 which the cleaning and other mosaic production consolidation took place. The marine subject is composed of two dolphins facing a trident, amongst the waves of the sea, with two smaller fish on top. At the right, a tree is depicted, barren and overturned, while above, part of the burial inscription remains visible. The maritime theme frequently decorates ancient salt thermals, but is also widespread in the burial context, as it recalls the idea of a world that is genuinely happy. In the case of this aquatic scene, it is reminiscent of an otherworldly life. Perhaps this vision of serenity exists in contrast to the tree-like image on the right (presumably matching with another that was on the left) which, without leaves and upside-down, in the Greek and Etruscan world, constitutes a calling to a realm beyond that is darker and void of life.