Sunday, 29 June 2014

A mosaic montage part 3 - Lullingstone Roman villa

The third and final instalment of Roman mosaic related goodness from my recent trip down south takes us to Lullingstone villa, just south east of London.  You can catch up with my previous looks at Fishbourne Palace and Bignor villa by following these links.

Lullingstone is an English Heritage site, discovered during excavations beginning in 1949, and located down one of the longest, windiest and most poorly signposted roads I have ever encountered.  Still, good archaeology is rarely located in the most convenient locations.

The villa is contained within a large building, just as Fishbourne and Bignor are.  While this is undoubtedly a vital element of the site conservation, I have to admit that it does serve to detach the site from its landscape somewhat and serves to disorientate the visitor as to which direction they are facing, and how the original structures relate to each other.  On the flip side, however, it does allow for museum displays to be positioned around the edges of the actual remains and related to them, and for a wonderful high level view of the remains to be obtained.  Swings and roundabouts I suppose.

Lullingstone is a very compact villa, with a tightly packed suite of rooms clustered together, and which developed from its origins between c.AD100-150 to its heyday in the years following AD360.  One thing I have to say about the images below is that its amazing how overpowering the green lighting on the remains appears.  I don't remember it looking that strong on site!

The displays surrounding the physical remains are well set out in terms of explaining the development of the villa, its wider context and displaying a nice variety of finds from the site.  There are also a very neat and colourful selection of cartoons to accompany the displays.  Although aimed at kids, I confessed I enjoyed looking at them too!

I haven't mentioned mosaics yet, of course, and truth be told, Lullingstone only has one surviving pavement.  Thankfully, its a fantastic one!  Located in a central position in the house, the pavement covers both a reception room and an apsidal dining room.  The element of the mosaic in the reception room features a large and slightly random assemblage of geometric borders and panels, but centres around a square with the four seasons and a feature image of the hero Bellerophon.  In the image, Bellerophon is riding Pegasus, and is spearing a fire breathing Chimaera.

The dining room apse contains the most famous element of the pavement - the image of Europa being abducted by Jupiter in the guise of a bull.  This element of the pavement is also a fine example of a mosaic clearly designed to sit in the centre of a triclinium - the classical Roman dining furniture.

In the myth, Europa was a Phoenician woman with whom Jupiter became infatuated.  To ensnare her, he (rather bizarrely) turned himself into a white bull and hid with her father's herd.  When tending the cows she noticed the fine, white bull, and as she stroked it, it picked her up on its back and whisked her away to Crete.  There Jupiter revealed his true identity and Europa became Queen of Crete.  Honestly, what's the point of being the universe's most powerful deity if you have to go to such lengths just to get some mortal girl?  The mosaic shows the pair as they are flying across the ocean (yep, it was a flying bull), its hooves dipping into the water, and the near naked Europa clearly enjoying the ride and the sea wind whistling through her hair.

The scene is enhanced by the Latin script above it, which reads:


This translates as 'If jealous Juno had seen the swimming of the bull more justly would she had gone to the halls of Aeolus'.  This is an allusion to Virgil's Aeneid, when Juno went to Aeolus (the ruler of the winds) to get him to hinder Aeneas on his travels.  The reference here is that she should have been more concerned with her husband's ludicrous schemes to abduct mortal women!  Its a lovely classical reference, and clearly designed to be a talking point for the well-educated diners reclining around the pavement.

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