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My Favourite Planet > English > People > Medusa > part 8
back Medusa – part 8 Page 8 of 8
Gorgons on mosaics

The head of Medusa on a mosaic from the Casa delle Vestali, Pompeii at My Favourite Planet

A polychrome Gorgoneion in the centre of a black and white mosaic floor from Pompeii.

Early 1st century AD. Excavated on 11th November 1784 in Room 38, a cubiculum
(bedroom) of the House of the Vestals (Casa delle Vestali, Regio VI, Insula 1, Casa 7),
Pompeii. Removed to the Naples museum on 13th December 1787. The house was
named due to the mistaken belief that it was the residence the Vestal Virgins.

National Archaeological Museum, Naples. No inventory number.

The baby-faced Gorgoneion in the mosaic from the House of the Vestals, Pompeii at My Favourite Planet

The baby-faced Gorgoneion in the mosaic from the House of the Vestals, Pompeii.

The head of Medusa on a mosaic floor from Dion, Macedonia at My Favourite Planet

The head of Medusa in the centre of a mosaic floor from
the Villa of Dionysos, Dion, Macedonia. 2nd century AD.

Dion Archaeological Museum, Macedonia, Greece.

A mosaic floor from Piraeus with winged head of the Gorgon Medusa at My Favourite Planet

Detail of a mosaic floor found in 1892 in Zea, Piraeus. Made in the 2nd century AD,
using the opus tessallatum technique. The winged head of Medusa in the central rondo
portrays her as an attractive, blond, young woman with snakes in her hair. The mosaic
also features the popular geometric pattern of intersecting radial spirals and concentric
circles, defined by triangles. Like the image of Medusa, it is thought that the pattern
was believed to have supernatural apotropaic properties (able to avert evil).

National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

The winged head of the Gorgon Medusa on a mosaic floor from Patras at My Favourite Planet

A large section of a mosaic floor with the winged head of Medusa in the central medallion
(see detail below). The geometric pattern surrounding the Gorgoneion is the same as that
on the mosaic from Piraeus above but monochrome (black and white). Ivy leaves fill the
corners within the mosaic's relatively simple frame.

2nd century AD. From a large buiding in Patras, northwestern Peloponnese, Greece.

Patras Archaeological Museum.

The museum has taken the bold decision to display a number of mosaics vertically.

A detail of the Medusa mosaic in Patras at My Favourite Planet

Detail of the mosaic floor from Patras above, with the Gorgoneion in the central medallion.

Patras Archaeological Museum.

Mosaic head of Medusa from Pergamon at My Favourite Planet

The head of Medusa in the centre of a floor mosaic. From the Lower City of Pergamon.
Roman period, 3rd century AD. The entire mosaic measures 4.20 x 4.45 metres.

Bergama Archaeological Museum.
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Mosaic head of Medusa, Baths of Diocletian, Rome at My Favourite Planet

The head of Medusa with snakes, in the centre of a floor mosaic from Rome. The circular
composition of such mosaics is often likened to a shield, and the patterning, radiating
from the central emblem, has been described as "imbricated", that is with shapes in
contrasting colours appearing to overlap each other, like roof tiles, scales or feathers.

1st - 2nd century AD. Found in the Via Ardeatina, near the church of S. Palombo, Rome.

Baths of Diocletian, National Museum of Rome.

See also a small emblema with a bust of Dionysus from the same floor mosaic.

Mosaic head of Medusa, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome at My Favourite Planet

The head of Medusa in the centre of a floor mosaic from Rome.

Roman Imperial period, end of the 1st - mid 2nd century AD.
Found in 1939 in a necropolis on the Via Imperiale, Rome.

Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, National Museum of Rome. Inv. No. 125532.

A winged Gorgoneion in the centre of a polychrome mosaic from Kos at My Favourite Planet

A winged Gorgoneion in the central medallion of a polychrome floor mosaic from the
island of Kos in the Dodecanese. The circular design around Medusa's head is described
as an "imbricated shield" (see above). This is surrounded by a square frame of black
tesserae. At each corner between the shield and this frame is a heart-shaped ivy leaf.

Roman period, Late 3rd - mid 4th century AD.

The Medusa Chamber, Palace of the Grand Master, Rhodes.

Following the Italo-Turkish War of 1911-1912, Italy took possession of the Dodecanese islands from the Ottoman Turks (see also History of Kastellorizo). On 23 April 1933 the second largest island Kos was devastated by an earthquake which flattened the main town. During the clearing and rebuilding, the level of the ancient city of Kos was discovered and subsequently excavated by Italian archaeologists. [1] The finds among the extensive ruins included several mosaics from the Hellenistic, Roman and early Christian periods, many of fine quality and well preserved, with a wide range of figurative and abstract or geometric designs.

Most of the mosaics can still be seen in Kos, but several where taken to the main island Rhodes. They were set into the floors of the Medieval Palace of the Grand Master of the crusading knights of the Order of Saint John, in the Old Town of Rhodes, which the Italians restored 1937-1940.

Over two the centuries of the knights' rule on Rhodes and neighbouring islands (1309-1522), they constructed several impressive defensive and representative buildings on a grand scale, the palace being the largest and most impressive single example, another being the nearby hospital, built around 1440-1489, now the Archaeological Museum of Rhodes.

While both are imposing edifices, their interiors are quite dark and oppressive, and most of the rooms are dimly lit, not ideal for illuminating the fascinating exhibits. The Medusa Chamber, named after the floor mosaic, is lit by a window with large wooden shutters. When they are open the glare of the sunlight falling in strips, with dark shadows formed by the window frames, makes it impossible to view the mosaic. When they are closed the gloom is too dark to see almost anything at all. [2]

Mosaic head of Medusa from the Terrace Houses, Ephesus at My Favourite Planet

The head of Medusa on a polychrome emblema (panel) of a floor mosaic
in one of the Terrace Houses in Ephesus. Roman period, 3rd century AD.

Terrace House 2 (Hanghaus 2), Dwelling Unit 3, Room 16a.

The Gorgon's head is shown in the manner typical of the Roman era, with the tails of two snakes tied in a Herakles knot on her throat. The snake's bodies writhe around the sides of her winged head, and their heads appear above, facing each other. Unusually, they have "horns" and "beards" in the Egyptian manner (see Medusa part 3). Medusa's round face is quite human, feminine and pretty, and she appears to be looking up.

The x-shaped backgound has a pattern of grey scales, probably representing the aegis (see Medusa part 6). The finely executed image has a black oval frame within a thinner black quadrilateral frame, surrounded by a large oblong mosaic area consisting of a black and white recurring pattern of intersecting circles.

The image has been dated stylistically to the 3rd century AD, although some scholars have suggested the 2nd century and even the 5th century (Volker Michael Strocka and Werner Jobst). [3]

In the same room, to the left (west) of this mosaic, is another of the same size and style with an emblema containing a bust of Dionysus.

See also:

a Gorgon relief in the "Temple of Hadrian", Ephesus (Medusa part 3)

a Gorgoneion on the Library of Celsus, Ephesus (Medusa part 3)

Gorgoneions on sarcophagi from Ephesus (Medusa part 5)
Medusa Notes, references and links

1. Italian archaeology on Kos

See, for example:

Monica Livadiotti, Giorgio Rocco, Il piano regolatore di Kos del 1934: un progetto di città archeologica. In: Thiasos, rivista di archeologia e architettura antica, 2012, No. 1, pages 3-18. Edizioni Quasar di Severino Tognon, Rome. PDF at

2. Light and lighting in museums

This may not be the right place to comment on light and lighting in museums and galleries, but it is an important issue when discussing the exhibition of art of any kind. Having visited hundreds of museums, exhibitions and historical buildings, and having also been involved with exhibition design and organization, it is subject close to my heart. The quality of lighting in an exhibition space has a profound impact on a visitor's experience.

Many museums, particularly those in older older buildings, are dimly or badly lit. Lighting design in such old buildings is a difficult business, particularly where the appearance, material substance and atmosphere of interiors must be preserved. Redesigning and installing new lighting systems can be expensive, complicated and time-consuming: rooms or even entire galleries must be closed during the process.

It is often argued that lighting levels in museums have to be kept low in order to prevent deterioration of the exhibits, particularly pigments. While this may be true, one wonders whether intelligent design and choice of lighting sources could be a better solution than dismal halls. There are also many dingy museum rooms which do not display light-sensitive objects. Some museums and exhibition designers also deliberately darken rooms in order to create a particular "atmosphere" or in an effort to focus the attention of visitors on spotlit exhibits. Unfortunately, this kind of manipulative practice usually has more to do with showbiz than art appreciation.

3. Gorgon mosaic in Terrace House 2, Ephesus

See: David Parrish, Architectural function and decorative programs in the terrace houses in Ephesos, Topoi, volume 7/2, 1997, pages 579-633. At Persée.

An important article on the decoration of the Hanghäuser, with plans, photos and citations of the key studies of the subect. Parrish refers to Terrace House 2, Dwelling Unit 3 (on the plan "Hanghaus 2, Wohnung 3") as House 3.
Photos on the Medusa pages were taken
during visits to the following museums:

Berlin, Altes Museum
Berlin, Bode Museum
Berlin, Neues Museum
Dresden, Albertinum, Skulpturensammlung
Dresden, Semperbau, Abgusssammlung
Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Münzkabinett
Hamburg, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe
Speyer, Historisches Museum der Pfalz

Athens, Acropolis Museum
Athens, Epigraphical Museum
Athens, Kerameikos Archaeological Museum
Athens, National Archaeological Museum
Corfu Archaeological Museum
Corfu, archaeological site of the Temple of Artemis
Corfu, Museum of Mon Repos
Corinth Archaeological Museum
Delos Archaeological Museum
Delphi Archaeological Museum
Dion Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Eleusis Archaeological Museum and site, Attica
Isthmia Archaeological Museum
Kavala Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Kos Archaeological Museum, Dodecanese
Mycenae Archaeological Site and Museum
Mykonos, Aegean Maritime Museum
Mykonos Archaeological Museum
Nafplion Archaeological Museum, Peloponnese
Olympia Archaeological Museum, Peloponnese
Olympia, Museum of the History of the Olympic Games in Antiquity
Patras Archaeological Museum, Peloponnese
Piraeus Archaeological Museum, Attica
Pyrgos Archaeological Museum, Elis
Rhodes Archaeological Museum, Dodecanese
Rhodes, Palace of the Grand Master Thasos Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Thebes Archaeological Museum, Boeotia
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Veria Archaeological Museum, Macedonia

Milan, Civic Archaeological Museum
Naples, National Archaeological Museum
Ostia Archaeological Museum
Paestum, National Archaeological Museum, Campania
Rome, Capitoline Museums, Palazzo dei Conservatori
Rome, National Etruscan Museum, Villa Giulia
Rome, National Museum of Rome, Baths of Diocletian
Rome, National Museum of Rome, Palazzo Massimo
Rome, Villa Farnesina

Italy - Sicily
Agrigento Regional Archaeological Museum
Castelvetrano, Museo Civico
Catania, Museo Civico, Castello Ursino
Gela Regional Archaeological Museum
Palermo, Antonino Salinas Archaeological Museum
Syracuse, Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum

Amsterdam, Allard Pierson Museum
Leiden, Rijksmuseum van Oudheden

Bergama (Pergamon) Archaeological Museum
Didyma archaeological site
Ephesus Archaeological Museum, Selçuk
Ephesus archaeological site
Istanbul Archaeological Museums
Istanbul, Basilica Cistern
Izmir Archaeological Museum
Izmir Museum of History and Art
Manisa Archaeological Museum

United Kingdom
London, British Museum
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum

Many thanks to the staff of these museums,
especially at Dion, Gela, Manisa and Veria.
Photos and articles © David John, except where otherwise specified.
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