Roman, Early Imperial Period, possibly from Roman Tunisia, ca. 1st to 2nd century CE. An impressive, lifelike mosaic depicting a rooster, his body clearly modeled from life, with comb, hackle, feathers, and claws all nicely depicted. Red, pinks, greys, blacks, and pale yellows provide shading and shadow, contributing to the realistic look of the animal. He stands proudly on a grey parallelogram, placed to give the impression of depth, against a cream-colored background and within a black border. Size of mosaic: 22.05" W x 22.5" H (56 cm x 57.2 cm); size of frame: 29.25" W x 30" H (74.3 cm x 76.2 cm)
Mosaics (opus tesellatum) are some of our enduring images from the Roman world. They reveal everyday life, social interactions, and even things like clothing styles, personal ornament, the interior of buildings, and animals in ways other styles of Roman art generally do not. This mosaic would have decorated the home of a wealthy patron of the arts, and probably formed part of a floor. Many of the mosaics we know of with this level of detail and style came from Roman North Africa, and Tunisia in particular. Birds - and indeed, animals of all kinds - were popular subjects for mosaics. Romans delighted in seeing animals, and a major Roman industry during the imperial period was the capture and transport of birds, mammals, and lizards for display and sport in the Roman arena. Their mosaic artwork reflects that. For example, at Pompeii, there are multiple mosaics depicting well-rendered, lifelike birds engaging in a variety of activities - sitting in trees, warily watching cats, and in the case of one partridge, plucking at a necklace as if to steal it. Based on where mosaics depicting them have been found, birds seem to have been considered tranquil, peaceful subjects for the interiors of homes. The rooster was an agricultural symbol, but was also sometimes seen as a companion of the god Mercury.
See similar examples at the National Museum of Rome in the Baths of Diocletian: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mharrsch/7263358/in/album-280031/ and the Burrell Collection in Glasgow, UK: http://poultrybookstore.blogspot.com/2009/04/ancient-roman-chickens.html
Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection
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